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Up, Up and Array
It’s definitely not your grandmother’s fine china, but it is a dish (of sorts).
Instead of turkey, mashed potatoes and peas, this particular dish is made to hold living neurons — brain cells. Have you lost your appetite yet? Anyway, you wouldn’t want your dinner served up on this dish, called a microelectrode array, because it’s rather small—only about 2 x 2 inches.
A microelectrode array is a tiny device that allows a computer to connect to and communicate with living neurons via electrodes. Rat neurons are commonly used in these experiments, although other neurons could work, too.
Inside a functioning brain, neurons communicate with each other through tiny electrical signals. Similarly, the computer can “talk” to the neurons by sending tiny electrical signals through the electrodes. Essentially, the neurons get shocked. On the flip side, the computer can also “listen” to the neurons by detecting (again, through the electrodes) their electrical response to each shock.
So, why is the microelectrode array called a dish? Because of how it’s designed. At its center are 60 tiny electrodes embedded into the “floor.” These electrodes are so small it’s difficult to see them in this photograph. The neurons grow along the bottom of the dish, right on top of the electrodes. But, it’s the circular “wall” that makes it a dish. The wall retains the solution necessary for the neurons to grow—like a bowl holds soup.
Researchers expect this technology to help unravel the mystery of how the brain works.
Image Courtesy NIH