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Nanowire Mesh Links Cells and Electronics

3-D nanowire scaffolds let researchers grow tissue around transistors

3 min read
Image of rat brain cells grown in a 3-D nanowire scaffolding interact with electronics
Image: Charles M. Lieber

 27 August 2012—The act of joining living tissue with electronics has long been imagined in the world of science fiction, but cybernetic organisms are now one step closer to reality thanks to work emerging from Harvard University and MIT.

Researchers at those institutions have built tiny electronic meshes out of silicon nanowires and have used them as scaffolds to grow nerve, heart, and muscle tissue. The most immediate application of the work, described yesterday in the online edition of the journal Nature Materials, may be a new type of sensor system for in vitro testing of new drugs. But further down the road the research may lead to artificial eyes, implantable chips to control prosthetic limbs, and other devices that can communicate between electronics and living cells, says Charles Lieber, the professor of chemistry and engineering at Harvard who initiated and led the research.

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

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

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

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