The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Evidence for Bacterial Electrical Networks

Electrical highways between bacteria could make for better biological fuel cells

3 min read

25 February 2010—Experimental microbial fuel cells could turn bacteria into batteries that generate electricity from biomass. The key to this technology is the ability of bacteria to transfer electrons to their surroundings—for example, to the anode of a microbial fuel cell. But if the organisms have to be in direct contact with the anode, such devices would have to have extremely large surface areas.

Researchers from Aarhus University, in Denmark, report today in the journal Nature that bacteria appear to conduct electricity while separated by several millimeters, at least a thousand times as far apart than previously demonstrated. The naturally occurring electric currents, if confirmed, would allow bacteria spaced at least 12 millimeters apart to communicate electrically. The discovery might lead to new paths to treating infection and a better understanding of microbial ecosystems.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic

Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

Keep Reading ↓Show less