Posted on May 10, 2019, 6 p.m.
Scientists claim to have developed a new quantum material that could one day in the future be used to transfer information directly from human brains to computers, as published in the journal Nature Communications.
Although still in its early stages the work invokes Matrix like science fiction ideas of uploading brains to the cloud or hooking people up to a computer to track deep health metrics, up until recently those concepts only existed in science fiction realms.
The quantum material is a perovskite nickelate lattice as bio-electronic interfaces that the scientists claim could directly translate electrochemical signals from the brain into electrical activity that computer would be able to interpret.
“We can confidently say that this material is a potential pathway to building a computing device that would store and transfer memories,” says Shriram Ramanathan of Purdue University.
The material can only detect activity of some neurotransmitters currently, however, if this technology keeps progressing it is hypothesized to be able to be used to detect neurological disease or possibly store memories.
“The goal is to bridge the gap between how electronics think, which is via electrons, and how the brain thinks, which is via ions. This material helped us find a potential bridge,” said Hai-Tian Zhang.
“Imagine putting an electronic device in the brain, so that when natural brain functions start deteriorating, a person could still retrieve memories from that device,” Ramanathan said.
Testing has been conducted on glucose which is essential for energy production, and dopamine which is a chemical messenger that regulates movement, emotional responses and memory. Typically found in low amounts in the brain dopamine levels are even lower in those with Parkinson’s disease, detecting levels sooner could mean earlier treatment for the disease.
“This quantum material is about nine times more sensitive to dopamine than methods that we use currently in animal models,” said Alexander Chubykin. This sensitivity is due to strong interactions between correlated electrons; when the material was placed in contact with glucose molecules the oxide spontaneously grabbed hydrogen from the glucose via an enzyme, and the same occurred with dopamine released from a section of a mouse brain.
“The fact that we didn’t provide power to the material for it to take in hydrogen means that it could bring very low-power electronics with high sensitivity,” Ramanathan explains. “This could be helpful for probing unexplored environments, as well.”
“Findings open new avenues for use of emergent physics present in quantum materials in trace detection and conveyance of bio-matter, bio-chemical sciences, and brain-machine interfaces.”
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