Following an individual neuron in the brain, as it flexes and moves within the cranium, is an almost impossible job but a new study jointly being conducted by researchers at Arizona State University and Sandia National Labs hopes to develop an electrode device that will be able to communicate with individual neurons even as the brain moves around naturally.
The device will make use of microscale actuators that will reposition the electrodes and allow them to follow single cells as they shift under the device. The researchers revealed that the device will be of the size of a thumbnail and will be made up of three microelectrodes and associated micro actuators.
The actuators can be heated to several hundred degrees Celsius and cooled again about 1,000 times every second and each cycle can move the electrodes towards or away from the neurons, with around 540 cycles needed to extend the probe all the way.
"The idea that we could build this system to achieve multiple millimeters of total displacement out of a micron-scaled device was a significant milestone. We used electrostatic actuators in the past, but the thermal actuator provides much higher force, which is needed to move the probe in tissue", Sandia engineer Michael Baker said.