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Introduction

Neurons and neuronal networks decide, remember, modulate, and control an animalís every sensation, thought, movement, and act. The intimate details of this network, including the dynamical properties of individual and populations of neurons, give a nervous system the power to control a wide array of behavioral functions. The unknown character of much of this detail motivates many workers in modern neurobiology. Neurobiologists want to know more about neuronal dynamics and networks; about synaptic interactions between neurons; about how neuronal signaling, behavior, and control, and environmental stimuli are inextricably linked. And the one tool that can truly help unravel the neural substrates of behavioróthe digital computeróis, at present, utterly dissociated from nerve tissue. Neurobiologists use computers for simulation and for data collection, but they have not linked the electronic signaling of digital computers directly with the electronic signaling of nerve tissue.

We have engaged in a multi-disciplinary, multi-university, and multi-sponsor research program to take the first steps toward integrating computer electronics with neurobiology. To this end we will:

  • Implant a standalone microcomputer into the brain of a marine mollusc, to allow multi-site intracellular recording and stimulation in a live, freely behaving animal, and
  • embed a standalone microcomputer into the sensory and muscle/control pathways
  • of a giant moth, to probe the dynamical control of flight in a live, freely behaving animal.

The compelling scientific reason for this research is to better understand the neural substrates of behavior by correlating neuronal signaling and control with environmental stimuli and behavior.

Our research links neuroscience and neuroethology with computer, electrical, and mechanical engineering. Our goal is to develop a new technology that inextricably links neuroscience and computer electronics, to the ultimate benefit of both disciplines.