Print Your Own Brain Lamp From MRI Data

MRIs generally fall somewhere on the scale from boring to stressful depending on why you’re having one and how claustrophobic you get. Regardless, they’re a wonderful diagnostic tool and they’ve saved thousands if not millions of lives over the years. In a fun use of the technology, [mandalaFractals] has shown us how to make a 3D-printed brain lamp using an MRI scan of the head.

The build starts with an off-the-shelf lamp base and a smart LED bulb as the light source, though you could swap those out as desired for something like a microcontroller, a USB power supply, and addressable LEDs if you were so inclined. The software package Slicer is then used to take an MRI brain scan and turn it into something that you can actually 3D print. It’ll take some cleaning up to remove artifacts and hollow it out, but it’s straightforward enough to get a decent brain model out of the data. Alternatively, you can use someone else’s if you don’t have your own scan. Then, all you have to do is print it in a couple of halves, and pop it on the lamp base, and you’re done!

It’s a pretty neat build. Who wouldn’t love telling their friends that their new brain lamp was an accurate representation of their own grey noodles, after all? It could be a fun gift next time Halloween rolls around, too!

Meanwhile, if you’ve got your own MRI hacks that you’ve been cooking up, don’t hesitate to let us know!

Microbubbles And Ultrasound: Getting Drugs Through The Blood-Brain Barrier

The brain is a rather important organ, and as such, nature has gone to great lengths to protect it. The skull provides physical protection against knocks and bumps, but there’s a lesser-known defense mechanism at work too: the blood-brain barrier. It’s responsible for keeping all the nasty stuff – like bacteria, viruses, and weird chemicals – from messing up your head.

The blood-brain barrier effectively acts as a filter between the body’s circulatory system and the brain. However, it also frustrates efforts to deliver drugs directly to the brain for treating conditions like brain tumors. Now, scientists have developed a new technique that may allow critical life saving drugs to get through the barrier with the help of ultrasound technology. 

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MRI Resolution Progresses From Millimeters To Microns

Neuroscientists have been mapping and recreating the nervous systems and brains of various animals since the microscope was invented, and have even been able to map out entire brain structures thanks to other imaging techniques with perhaps the most famous example being the 302-neuron brain of a roundworm. Studies like these advanced neuroscience considerably but even better imaging technology is needed to study more advanced neural structures like those found in a mouse or human, and this advanced MRI machine may be just the thing to help gain better understandings of these structures.

A research team led by Duke University developed this new MRI technology using an incredibly powerful 9.4 Tesla magnet and specialized gradient coils, leading to an image resolution an impressive six orders of magnitude higher than a typical MRI. The voxels in the image measure at only 5 microns compared to the millimeter-level resolution available on modern MRI machines, which can reveal microscopic details within brain tissues that were previously unattainable. This breakthrough in MRI resolution has the potential to significantly advance understanding of the neural networks found in humans by first studying neural structures in mice at this unprecedented detail.

The researchers are hopeful that this higher-powered MRI microscope will lead to new insights and translate directly into advancements healthcare, and presuming that it can be replicated, used on humans safely, and becomes affordable, we would expect it to find its way into medical centers as soon as possible. Not only that, but research into neuroscience has plenty of applications outside of healthcare too, like the aforementioned 302-neuron brain of the Caenorhabditis elegans roundworm which has been put to work in various robotics platforms to great effect.

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A clear droplet sits on a blue PCB with gold traces. A syringe with a drop of clear liquid sits above the droplet.

Grow Your Own Brain Electrodes

Bioelectronics has been making great strides in recent years, but interfacing rigid electrical components with biological systems that are anything but can prove tricky. Researchers at the Laboratory for Organic Electronics (LOE) have found a way to bridge the gap with conductive gels. (via Linköping University)

Outside the body, these gels are non-conductive, but when injected into a living animal, the combination of gel and the body’s metabolites creates a conductive electrode that can move with the tissue. This is accompanied by a nifty change in color which makes it easy for researchers to see if the electrode has formed properly.

Side-by-side images of a zebrafish tail. Both say "Injected gel with LOx:HRP" at the top with an arrow going to the upper part of the tail structure. The left says "t=0 min" and "Injected with gel GOx:HRP" along the bottom with an arrow going to the lower part of the tail structure. The tail shows darkening in the later image due to formation of bioelectrodes.

Applications for the technology include better biological sensors and enhanced capabilities for future brain-controlled interfaces. The study was done on zebrafish and medicinal leeches, so it will be awhile before you can pick up a syringe of this stuff at your local computer store, but it still offers a tantalizing glimpse of the future.

We’ve covered a few different brain electrodes here before including MIT’s 3D printed version and stentrodes.

Auditory Brainstem Implants: The Other Bionic Hearing Device

You might have heard of the cochlear implant. It’s an electronic device also referred to as a neuroprosthesis, serving as a bionic replacement for the human ear. These implants have brought an improved sense of hearing to hundreds of thousands around the world.

However, the cochlear implant isn’t the only game in town. The auditory brain stem implant is another device that promises to bring a sense of sound to those without it, albeit by a different route.

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The Real Science (Not Armchair Science) Of Consciousness

Among brain researchers there’s a truism that says the reason people underestimate how much unconscious processing goes on in your brain is because you’re not conscious of it. And while there is a lot of unconscious processing, the truism also points out a duality: your brain does both processing that leads to consciousness and processing that does not. As you’ll see below, this duality has opened up a scientific approach to studying consciousness.

Are Subjective Results Scientific?

Researcher checking fMRI images.
Checking fMRI images.

In science we’re used to empirical test results, measurements made in a way that are verifiable, a reading from a calibrated meter where that reading can be made again and again by different people. But what if all you have to go on is what a person says they are experiencing, a subjective observation? That doesn’t sound very scientific.

That lack of non-subjective evidence is a big part of what stalled scientific research into consciousness for many years. But consciousness is unique. While we have measuring tools for observing brain activity, how do you know whether that activity is contributing to a conscious experience or is unconscious? The only way is to ask the person whose brain you’re measuring. Are they conscious of an image being presented to them? If not, then it’s being processed unconsciously. You have to ask them, and their response is, naturally, subjective.

Skepticism about subjective results along with a lack of tools, held back scientific research into consciousness for many years. It was taboo to even use the C-word until the 1980s when researchers decided that subjective results were okay. Since then, here’s been a great deal of scientific research into consciousness and this then is a sampling of that research. And as you’ll see, it’s even saved a life or two.

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Hackaday Links: May 16, 2021

With the successful arrival of China’s first Mars lander and rover this week, and the relatively recent addition of NASA’s Perseverance rover and its little helicopter sidekick Ingenuity, Mars has collected a lot of new hardware lately. But while the new kids on the block are getting all the attention, spare a thought for the reliable old warhorse which has been plying Gale Crater for the better part of a decade now — Curiosity. NASA has been driving the compact-car-sized rover around Mars for a long time now, long enough to rack up some pretty severe damage to its six highly engineered wheels, thanks to the brutal Martian rocks. But if you think Curiosity will get sidelined as its wheels degrade, think again — the rover’s operators have a plan to continue surface operations that includes ripping off its own wheels if necessary. It’s a complex operation that would require positioning the wheel over a suitable rock and twisting with the steering motor to peel off the outer section of the wheel, leaving a rim to drive around on. JPL has already practiced it, but they predict it won’t be necessary until 2034 or so. Now that’s thinking ahead.

With all the upheaval caused by the ongoing and worsening semiconductor shortage, it might seem natural to expect that manufacturers are responding to market forces by building new fabs to ramp up production. And while there seems to be at least some movement in that direction, we stumbled across an article that seems to give the lie to the thought that we can build our way out of the crisis. It’s a sobering assessment, to say the least; the essence of the argument is that 20 years ago or so, foundries thought that everyone would switch to the new 300-mm wafers, leaving manufacturing based on 200-mm silicon wafers behind. But the opposite happened, and demand for chips coming from the older 200-mm wafers, including a lot of the chips used in cars and trucks, skyrocketed. So more fabs were built for the 200-mm wafers, leaving relatively fewer fabs capable of building the chips that the current generation of phones, IoT appliances, and 5G gear demand. Add to all that the fact that it takes a long time and a lot of money to build new fabs, and you’ve got the makings of a crisis that won’t be solved anytime soon.

From not enough components to too many: the Adafruit blog has a short item about XScomponent, an online marketplace for listing your excess inventory of electronic components for sale. If you perhaps ordered a reel of caps when you only needed a dozen, or if the project you thought was a done deal got canceled after all the parts were ordered, this might be just the thing for you. Most items offered appear to have a large minimum quantity requirement, so it’s probably not going to be a place to pick up a few odd parts to finish a build, but it’s still an interesting look at where the market is heading.

Speaking of learning from the marketplace, if you’re curious about what brands and models of hard drives hold up best in the long run, you could do worse than to look over real-world results from a known torturer of hard drives. Cloud storage concern Backblaze has published their analysis of the reliability of the over 175,000 drives they have installed in their data centers, and there’s a ton of data to pick through. The overall reliability of these drives, which are thrashing about almost endlessly, is pretty impressive: the annualized failure rate of the whole fleet is only 0.85%. They’ve also got an interesting comparison of HDDs and SSDs; Backblaze only uses solid-state disks for boot drives and for logging and such, so they don’t get quite the same level of thrash as drives containing customer data. But the annualized failure rate of boot SDDs is much lower than that of HDDs used in the same role. They slice and dice their data in a lot of fun and revealing ways, including by specific brand and model of drive, so check it out if you’re looking to buy soon.

And finally, you know that throbbing feeling you get in your head when you’re having one of those days? Well, it turns out that whether you can feel it or not, you’re having one of those days every day. Using a new technique called “3D Amplified Magnetic Resonance Imaging”, or 3D aMRI, researchers have made cool new videos that show the brain pulsating in time to the blood flowing through it. The motion is exaggerated by the imaging process, which is good because it sure looks like the brain swells enough with each pulse to crack your skull open, a feeling which every migraine sufferer can relate to. This reminds us a bit of those techniques that use special algorithms to detects a person’s heartbeat from a video by looking for the slight but periodic skin changes that occurs as blood rushes into the capillaries. It’s also interesting that when we spied this item, we were sitting with crossed legs, watching our upper leg bounce slightly in time with our pulse.

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