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Thursday, 01 March 2018

Brain implants and educational nanotechnologies at the MWC and YoMo

The ICN2 returned this year to the Graphene Pavilion at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, this time showcasing graphene-based brain implants designed to restore speech and communication abilities. It also explored super hydrophobic materials in the classroom context at the parallel Youth Mobile Festival.

Once again the Mobile World Congress has brought the latest trends in mobile technologies to Barcelona, along with advances in graphene-based devices by way of the Graphene Pavilion, now in its third year. Organised by the Graphene Flagship, a European initiative to boost this two-dimensional material along its path to market, this pavilion brings together companies and research centres at the forefront of device development to consider the future commercial applications of this versatile material. The ICN2 was again among the centres chosen to exhibit its technologies, doing so by way of the brain implants developed under the EU project BrainCom to restore communication and speech to patients with impaired language processing abilities.

Brain-computer interfaces offer up a whole host of possibilities for transferring data directly from the brain to an external device. First debuted at the 2016 Mobile World Congress as a means of detecting the onset of epileptic fits, the technology presented now being applied within the BrainCom project to record and interpret the wealth of electrical signals underlying speech formation in the brain. The project, coordinated by ICREA Prof. Jose A. Garrido, leader of the ICN2 Advanced Electronic Materials and Devices Group, aims to take these ultra-slim sensors through to the first clinical trial stage, where they will obtain unprecedented volumes of data from the cortex of the human brain.

Based on graphene and supported by microchips, these sensors will allow signals to be read from as many as 10,000 recording sites on the brain’s surface. Advanced multiplexing technologies will allow this information to be processed without needing an equivalent number of cables to transfer the information to the external device. The challenge now is to refine the data processing needed to interpret these signals and restore speech in patients with severely impaired language processing abilities, such as patients suffering from certain types of aphasia who have lost control of the muscles required for speech.

Commitment to the education community

The ICN2 was also at the Youth Mobile Festival (YoMo), an event held in parallel to the Mobile World Congress aimed at a young public and the education community. As part of one of the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology (BIST) institutional stands, the ICN2 put on a show of scientific experiments designed to convey the impact of the nanoscale in everyday life, with particular emphasis on applications aimed at the transport and storage of energy.

Meanwhile, along with the GSMA’s mSchools initiative and fellow members of NanoEduca (a project shared with the UB, UAB and CESIRE of the Department of Education of the Government of Catalonia), the ICN2 organised the YoMo “Dive into graffiti” workshop. Working towards the goal of high-impact, low-cost educational tools, this session looked at fun ways to bring the concept of hydrophobicity to the classroom and, using mobile devices, explore the applications of super hydrophobic materials in the urban setting.