[thechat] The Fashionable Borg?

Madhu Menon webguru at vsnl.net
Thu Dec 20 00:39:09 CST 2001

(from The Harrow Technology Report

The Fashionable Borg?

Speaking of the "revolutionary," no one (at least not most of us) wants
to look like the half human, half machine Star Trek "Borg."
[Image - The Borg -
But according to the Nov. 24 Wired News
(http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,48572,00.html), brought to our
attention by reader Kenneth LaCrosse, scientists at the University of
Texas are working towards being able to graft a microelectronic circuit
directly onto a neuron! (Similar work is also taking place at the Max
Planck Institute
(http://www.nytimes.com/2001/12/10/technology/10NECO.html) and at other
research labs.)
They're far from ready to "plug us in" -- they have many steps yet to go
before significant "direct connects" are feasible. But this line of
research is fascinating, and a pretty good hint of things to come, as
described by Brian Korgel,
"We can now take a semiconductor and position it where we want it on
a cell. We can interface microelectronic materials with cells."
They did run into an interesting roadblock in this process; current
semiconductor manufacturing techniques don't have the precision to align
an electronic quantum dot with just the right location on a neuron. So
Korgel and Christine Schmidt simply changed the rules -- they co-opted
peptides, a biomolecule, to connect with exactly the right protein on
the surface of the neuron!
If this process turns out to be successful, what might it eventually
mean to us? "Bio-prosthetics," for one thing, where artificial limbs
might work as naturally as real ones. But derivatives of this primary
research could be even more interesting, according to Korgel:
"On a more basic level than the actual brain, you may be able to
make a substrate, put nerve cells on those, grow them and then put
semiconductor dots on different nerve cells -- and then use those
nerve cells as a computer."
Shuning Nie, a quantum dot chemist at Indiana University, sums the
potential of this work up nicely:
"These are fairly far-out ideas. But we are talking about
interfacing semiconductor nanostructures and biology. It's a big
Which would change a whole lot of rules.

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Madhu Menon
User Experience Consultant
e-mail: webguru at vsnl.net

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