The February 2023 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

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Brain Beauty Contest

Computer modelers compete to show neurosurgeons the best path to the tumor

1 min read

This view gives surgeons a sneak peek through the patient’s head at the location of the tumor and the neuronal fibers that cross the path. Toggle switches (not shown) allow surgeons to change which fiber tracts are visible.

Plotting the path to a brain tumor first requires a map. As part of next week’s VisWeek conference, the 2010 IEEE Visualization Contest pitted graphics teams from both industry and academia against one another to see who could best draw that map. Each team transformed the same sets of MRI data into unique, and sometimes bizarre, pictures of the safest paths through the brain. Neurosurgeons decided the winner.

Next year’s contest to model the turbulence from a fluid pump is already accepting submissions.

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The Conversation (0)
Illustration showing an astronaut performing mechanical repairs to a satellite uses two extra mechanical arms that project from a backpack.

Extra limbs, controlled by wearable electrode patches that read and interpret neural signals from the user, could have innumerable uses, such as assisting on spacewalk missions to repair satellites.

Chris Philpot

What could you do with an extra limb? Consider a surgeon performing a delicate operation, one that needs her expertise and steady hands—all three of them. As her two biological hands manipulate surgical instruments, a third robotic limb that’s attached to her torso plays a supporting role. Or picture a construction worker who is thankful for his extra robotic hand as it braces the heavy beam he’s fastening into place with his other two hands. Imagine wearing an exoskeleton that would let you handle multiple objects simultaneously, like Spiderman’s Dr. Octopus. Or contemplate the out-there music a composer could write for a pianist who has 12 fingers to spread across the keyboard.

Such scenarios may seem like science fiction, but recent progress in robotics and neuroscience makes extra robotic limbs conceivable with today’s technology. Our research groups at Imperial College London and the University of Freiburg, in Germany, together with partners in the European project NIMA, are now working to figure out whether such augmentation can be realized in practice to extend human abilities. The main questions we’re tackling involve both neuroscience and neurotechnology: Is the human brain capable of controlling additional body parts as effectively as it controls biological parts? And if so, what neural signals can be used for this control?

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