Scientist and engineer with a primary focus on brain circuit modification to allow novel cognitive abilities.
Cofounded Halo Neuroscience in 2012; An Andreessen Horowitz backed company currently conducting clinical trials of neural stimulation hardware for noninvasive cognitive augmentation and repair.
Left Halo in 2014 to develop additional disruptive approaches to cognitive modification. The first of these is Mynd, an app that subconsciously changes a user's thoughts and behavior via psychological engineering. Mynd is backed by prominent angel investors Christophe Maire and Amol Sarva.
My work has been noted on BBC Radio, Wired, IEEE spectrum, and other prominent magazine, books, and websites.
Cybernetic vision enhancement system ('Squintasaurus'): A repurposed laser positioning gearbox from a CD-ROM is used connected to the head via straps. Command signals from switches attached to the fingers cause the positioner to adjust tension on the skin surrounding the eye. This tension brings the front of the eye (lense, cornea, etc) closer to the retina at the back of the eye (i.e. the eye is slightly 'squished'), thereby allowing dynamic adjustment of the focusing of light within the eye. This can be used to either correct the offset focus in near sighted people, or to increase distance vision in people with normal eyesite.
Image-Controlled Home Automation System: Transmits command signals via standard webcam video feeds to allow control of home automation devices from any computer connected to the internet. The home computer detects command signals via light sensors taped to the screen. Remote computers send signals by having the user shine a light into different regions of the webcam's field of view.
Furby Brain Transplant: A furby's brain was bypassed and replaced with a customized replacement brain. This allowed programing in new motor responses to signals from the furby's inherent sensor array which is capable of detecting light, sound, and touch stimuli.
Large 'Dancing' Robot: A large robot was made with two wheelchair motors, two 2x4s, and 2 steel conduit channels. The batteries used were not powerful enough to allow full desired motion of the legs, resulting in a 'dancing' motion instead of a walking motion. Original tests done with a smaller scale version of the robot were successful due to no limitation in power supply.
Micro Solar Powered Robot: A minimalist robot was made using a solar panel, BEAM 'solar engine', and a single pager motor. This robot drives in little circles when placed under a lamp or outdoors during the day. Power from the solar panel is stored in a capacitor until it has reached sufficient voltage to power a single rotation of the pager motor wheel. Depending on the amount of light present these wheel movements can occur very rapidly or seconds apart.
Semi-Autonomous Submersible Robot: A submersible robot was made using sealed trolling motors, an electronic compass, tilt sensors, pressure sensors, camera, video-overlay IC, Playstation controller, and a Basic Stamp Microcontroller.
Cockroach Control Via Sensory Manipulation: A lightweight electronic backpack was created to allow remote manipulation of the sensory inputs to the cockroaches antennae. In the innactive state two flaps hung vertically on either side of the cockroaches two antennae. This was done to make the cockroach believe that it was in a narrow hallway. In the active state, one or both of the flaps could be pulled by the 'muscle wire' (Shape Memory Alloy) into a horizontal orientation, so as not to touch their respective antenna. This was done to create the sensation of "left wall only", "right wall only", and "no walls" situations. Contrary to my original hypothesis, In "right wall only" configurations the cockroaches turned to the right, and in "left wall only" configurations the cockroachs turned to the left. This most likely occured because cockroaches prefer to run along walls ('thigmotaxis'), so the turns they made were byproducts of their attempt to hug the simulated walls (thereby avoiding the simulated open space).
Easy Animation System: An extremely simple system using whiteboards in combination with freely available software to create animated cartoons within minutes.
Night Vision Camera Mod: How to remove infrared filters from digital cameras to allow IR illuminated night vision.
Aesthetic Hard Drive Speaker: A more minimalist take on the hard drive speaker. I cut away everything not necessary for creating audio output from a cut open hard drive.
Affordable Micron-Accuracy Creation of Plastic 3D Objects: Using a computer controlled engraving machine for the milling out of 3D objects from delrin plastic.
PIC Microcontroller Development Board: A novel PCB was made to allow easy use of the PIC Microcontroller in prototyping or final implementations. The board included a logical re-arrangement of pin-outs and LEDs to visualize I/O activity. Two options for power supply were also implemented allowing use of either internal or external regulators. Additional pads were also included to allow connection of optional peripherals.
Vortex-Drive Micro ROV: ROVVor is atiny subaquatic vehicle that propels itself by creating multiple standing vortices around its asymetrical hull. These vortices are maintained using a novel, simple mechanism which does not require the contact of any mechanical parts with the surrounding water, thereby eliminating any possibility of leakage or corrosion.
Spaceflight Life Support and Bospherics by Peter Eckart
Terraforming, the Creating of Habitable Worlds by Martin Beech
Robotics / Electronics:
Understanding Electricity and Electronics by Randy Slone
Mobile Robots, 2nd edition by Jones, Flynn, Seiger
Principles of Digital Design by Daniel Gajski
Robot Builder's Bonanza by Gordon Mccomb
PIC Microcontroller Project Book by John Iovine
Handmade Electronic Music by Nicolas Collins
Digital Electronics for Scientists by Malmstadt / Enke
Hacking, The Art of Exploitation by Jon Erickson
Hacking the XBox by Bunnie Huang
Hacker Disassembling Uncovered by Kris Kaspersky
The Little Black Book of Email Viruses by Mark Allen Ludwig
2600 magazine subscription
Unbelievable by Stacy Horn
The Conscious Universe by Dean Radin
Entangled Minds by Dean Radin
Hauntings and Poltergeists edited by James Houran
Ecology / Physiology:
Botany in a Day by Thomas Elpel
Physiological Plant Ecology by W. Larcher
Biology of Plants by Raven, Evert, Eichhorn
Foundations of Parasitology by Geralrd Schmidt
Biology of Earthworms by Edwards and Lofty
The Other Insect Societies by James Costa
Destructive and Useful Insects by Metcalf
Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer
The Private Life of Plants by David Attenborough
Life in the Undergrowth by David Attenborough
The Life of Birds by David Attenborough
Life in Cold Blood by David Attenborough
Life on Earth by David Attenborough
Phantoms in the Brain by Ramachandran
The Development of Intersensory Perception by Lewkowitz
Bioelectricity by Suckling
Corticonics by Abeles
Microcircuits by Grillner
Networks of the Brain by Olaf Sporns
The Mutable Brain by Jon Kaas
Neurophysiology of Consciousness by Benjamin Libet
Quest for Consciousness by Christof Koch
The Merging of the Senses by Stein and Meredith
Behavior and its Neural Control in Gastropod Molusks by Ronald Chase
Animal Bodies, Human Minds
Suffer and Survive by Martin Goodman
Kon Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl
Seaworthy by T.R. Pearson
The Heart of the Arctic by Ernest Shackleton
Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
We Die Alone: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance by David Howarth
Sedminentary Geology by Prothero, Schwab
Earth's Climate Past and Future by Ruddman
Introduction to Quantum Mechanics by David Griffiths
Classes and Services
The Gist of It:
My research has focused on 1) creating new connections in the brain to facilitate natural learning beyond inherent abilities, and 2) directly implanting new skills into the brain, and/or deleting existing skills. The former has involved tissue & materials engineering, while the latter has involved electrophysiological 'programming' and pharmacological manipulation of the neural connections which store 'muscle memories' in the brain. An overview of my work in these areas can be seen in the figures at the bottom of the page.
I. Creating Artificial Synesthesia Connections:
The brain's long distance connections ('white matter') are thouight to perform a fundamental role in the differences between cognitive abilities between species. These connections cannot be as easily modified by experience as shorter, more local connections ('grey matter'). Because of this, the engineering of white matter must instead rely on the physical creation of new connections via tissue engineering. Our studies involving the creation of artificial white matter connections via both 1) the creation of hydrogel tunnels embedded with dissociated neurons and 2) the grafting of degenerated peripheral nerves into brain tissue. Peripheral nerves grafted between seperate regions of the sensory cortex facilitate growth of novel axonal connectivity between these regions, creating a synesthetic effect (hand sensory region responding equaly well to whisker stimulation).
II. Programming New 'Muscle Memories':
The learning of new 'muscle memories' takes a great deal of time and effort and can therefore be limited more by behavioral factors than brain circuit capabilities and capacities. Muscle memories are refered to as sensorimotor memories in the neurobiology field. This is because they all involve first a sensing of ones environment and then an appropriate reaction to that sensory information. To advance the possibility of being able to instantaneously program new skills directly into the brain we attempted to modulate the weights of existing synaptic connections between the sensory (input) and motor (output) cortex. Using patterns of electrical microstimulation in both brain regions we successfully enhanced the strength of connectivity between specific, localized regions of the sensory and motor cortex. This is the first time that such an artificial manipulation of synaptic strength between the sensory and motor cortex has been shown. Future studies will acertain the degree to which these induced changes result in behavioral correlates.
III. Deleting Existing 'Muscle Memories' & Sensory Maps:
In order to program new memories into the brain it may be useful in the future to delete existing memories, in order to free up limited neural real estate. We performed studies using ZIP, a drug which interferes with a protein thought to be highly involved in the storage of memories. ZIP deleted recently learned, and distantly learned sensorimotor memories, but allowed normal relearning of these memories afterwards, suggesting that no damage was done to the brain. In electrophysiological experiments it was observed that ZIP disrupted both natural response properties of the sensory cortex as well as sensory map boundaries.