Skip to Content

Neuron on a Chip

Tiny changes in the way electrical signals move through neurons are the basis of learning and memory–and of many brain pathologies. But it has been difficult for neuroscientists to observe these changes in much detail. Now, researchers at Harvard University have created a tool with unmatched sensitivity: silicon nanowires that amplify very small electrical signals from as many as 50 places on a single neuron. Existing methods can pick up signals from only one or two places.

Fifty nanoscale devices on a chip measure electrical signals traveling along a single neuron. (Credit: Lieber Group, Harvard)

Chemist Charles Lieber and coworkers assemble nano­wires on a silicon chip, deposit electrical leads that connect to them, and add protein molecules that promote and control neuron growth. Finally, they seed the chip with rat neurons and wait four to ten days for them to grow. The proteins provide a path for the neuron’s growth along the chip, ensuring that it makes contact with the nanowires. The technology could eventually help brain scientists understand the underpinnings of learning, memory, and disease.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2024

Every year, we look for promising technologies poised to have a real impact on the world. Here are the advances that we think matter most right now.

Scientists are finding signals of long covid in blood. They could lead to new treatments.

Faults in a certain part of the immune system might be at the root of some long covid cases, new research suggests.

AI for everything: 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2024

Generative AI tools like ChatGPT reached mass adoption in record time, and reset the course of an entire industry.

What’s next for AI in 2024

Our writers look at the four hot trends to watch out for this year

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.