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Neuroelectronics

Neuroelectronics

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Within the integrated circuits of computers (which we can compare to 'artificial brains'), the data transmission between the different elementary elements the transistors is made by electrical impulse. It is interesting to note that within the human brain, and between the brain and the other different organs, transmission of information (a function fulfilled by the nervous system) is also based on electrical phenomena. The sending of information all along the system of nerve cells (neurons) is expressed by the propagation of a change in the electrical charge of the neurons' membrane. In this way, an electrical impulse goes through the nervous system to the organs. The electrical characteristics of nerve impulses were demonstrated two centuries ago, during a well-known experiment in which Volta placed two electrodes on frogs' legs and applied a voltage, in this way producing a movement. But it is only recently that the similarity between the transmission process of information in microelectronics systems and the nervous systems made researchers think of correlating transistors and neurons. This new scientific field, which relates microelectronics concepts and neurology, has been named neuroelectronics. The first point of interest in this approach (making transistors and neurons communicate with each other) is that an integrated circuit associated with a neuron (or a group of neurons) forms a sensor of the neurons' activity. Then, those systems would be able to monitor in vitro (within test tubes) the effect of new medicine on the nervous system, which will allow the reduction of in vivo (m-the-body) tests (on animals). The functioning of the human brain (a network of more than a hundred billion neurons) is far from being completely understood. To connect a neuron network to a microelectronic integrated circuit would allow the network to be observed while it was working and then to better understand the functioning of our brain; moreover, it would allow the use of this network to assist the computer in some tasks and calculations. This is the second major aspect of neuroelectronics. Finally, we can also imagine that an artificial microelectronics system could restore the communication in an area of the nervous system damaged after an ill ness or an accident. Those artificial neurons could be used for instance to repair spinal-cord injuries after some accidents. Of course, all those applications exist currently only in the speculative world of researchers, but the recent advances of neuroelectronics (a scientific field only ten years old) are promising. In the next sections these progresses will be briefly presented.

Inspec keywords: neurophysiology; integrated circuits; brain; bioelectric phenomena; biomedical electrodes

Other keywords: neuroelectronics; human brain; neuron network; nerve cell; electrical impulse; transistor; electrode; integrated circuit; nervous system; microelectronics; data transmission

Subjects: Electrical activity in neurophysiological processes

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