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One graphene to brain them all

Posted October 31, 2018

Brain-computer interface, hybrids between human and machine, neuralink. Are these phenomena technologically possible, or just another great but useless piece science fiction? How can one connect the exceptionally complex brain with contradictory organized, yet alike complex computers?

When looking at the problem fundamentally, none of the current technologies can be directly used to bridge the gap between the worlds of natural and artificial. And there are a number of very strong limitation of that matter, such as huge difference in material softness. Brain is like a squashy jelly fish, while common microelecrodes (see Utah arrays) are like iron nails. They are hardly compatible. Yes, in a short timescale the interface and even treatments are possible, but these are simply half-solutions enabled by evolution of CMOS microtechnology. Moreover, these devices feature only 16/62/128, with the best top of ~1000 electrodes (see neuropixels). However, the scaling with CMOS is fundamentally limited, in the power transmission, in heat transfer, noise, and mechanical mismatch.

Obviously, if evolution does not happen, a revolution is required. But wait. What if the revolution has already happened? Not as strikingly in a first glance, but we believe it will be recognized as one very soon.

Image credit: Dmitry Kireev

Graphene is a wonder material that has unraveled a number of old physics problems in the recent decade. However, the discovery of graphene brought and interesting perspective for bioelectronics mostly due to its fantastic set of properties. When transparency, high electrical conductivity and efficiency, physical stability, flexibility, ultra-thin thickness (~3 Å) are contained within one material – there is a good chance for a scientific jackpot.

Authors of the recent review paper, published in 2D materials made an extensive overview on graphene and use of graphene based devices in bioelectronics and neuroprosthetics. “Graphene is fantastically sensitive as well as robust, physically as well as biologically, paving a promising route towards entirely a seamless synergy with biological tissue”, says Dmitry Kireev, one of the leading researchers in the area. These properties that are of great advantage to bioelectronics applications are currently under extensive research, and the number of bio- and neuro- applications of graphene keep growing like mushrooms.

The work present a deep overview on the different ways to utilize graphene for bioelectronic applications, and specifically focus on interfacing graphene based devices with electrogenic cells, such as cardiac and neuronal.

Importantly, graphene might not be the panacea, but the route to one. Discovery of graphene has brought with itself a whole new world of 2D materials, that possess entirely new properties at the nanoscale. Absence of the third dimension makes these materials typically transparent, flexible and stable towards mechanical deformations. Intriguing as they are, these 2D materials continue to surprise researchers with their properties. Ultimately it is already seems possible to build entirely unique two dimensional ICs as well as bio- and neuro-sensors.

There seem to be an unlimited room at the bottom, that, who knows, one day will bring the scientific world to the seamless integration to the most elaborated, complex, and mysterious piece of nature: human brain.

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