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Distinguished Lecture | ECE Distinguished Seminar Series

Electronics in the Brain – Literally

Prof. Arto NurmikkoL. Herbert Ballou University Professor of Engineering and PhysicsBrown University
Gerald R. Ford LibraryMap


Reading the human mind by electronic means used to be the domain of science fiction – and is still largely so. At the same time, technologies collectively labelled as brain-computer interfaces have moved forward, motivated by needs for assistive tools for neurologically impaired people and to advance our fundamental understanding of the brain. An applied example would be the use of electronic means to read out directly from the brain the intention to move an arm or a hand, and to decipher such signals to actuate an external robotic device. Another example is the
reading out brain signals produced when listening to or formulating speech. To access brain’s microcircuits at high space-time resolution requires implantation of electronic listening posts, call them nodes, at a number of nearby locations in a given functional area of the cortex. Which brings up the question of the day for neuroengineers: how many nodes might be required or are possible to implant, and how does one physically implement arrays of microscale electronic probes? What are the data rates involved in extracting brain signals and how to design a communication link to send the data onward for decoding by external computing platforms? What about reversing the direction of the process to use implanted probes to deliver signals directly into the brain (‘write-in’)? Through contemporary examples, this presentation will review recent accomplishments in the field from an electrical engineer’s viewpoint and discuss both the challenges and opportunities ahead to build next generations of brain-computer interfaces while explicitly exploiting many of the early 21st century advances in microelectronics, telecommunication, and high end computing.


Arto V. Nurmikko, a native of Finland, is a L. Herbert Ballou University Professor of Engineering and Physics at Brown. He received his degrees from University of California, Berkeley, with postdoctoral stays at MIT and Hebrew University. Professor Nurmikko conducts research in neuroengineering, brain sciences, nanophotonics and microelectronics, especially for the translation of device research to new technologies in biomedical, life science, and photonics applications. His current interests include development of implantable brain communication interfaces, microscale neural circuit sensors, compact semiconductor lasers, and high resolution acoustic microscopy. Professor Nurmikko is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and Fellow of the Optical Society of America. He has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and to the Academy of Letters and Science of Finland. He was the co-recipient of the Israel Brain Prize in 2013.

Sponsored by

ECE Division


Ann Stals

Faculty Host

Stephen ForrestPaul G. Goebel Professor of EngineeringEECS-ECE, University of Michigan