Brain functions are controlled by millions of brain cells. However, in order to understand how the brain controls functions, such as simple reflexes or learning and memory, we must be able to record the activity of large networks and groups of neurons. Conventional methods have allowed scientists to record the activity of neurons for minutes, but a new technology, developed by University of Calgary researchers, known as a bionic hybrid neuro chip, is able to record activity in animal brain cells for weeks at a much higher resolution. The technological advancement was published in the journal Scientific Reports this month.
“These chips are 15 times more sensitive than conventional neuro chips,” says Naweed Syed, PhD, scientific director of the University of Calgary, Cumming School of Medicine’s Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute and senior author on the study. “This allows brain cell signals to be amplified more easily and to see real time recordings of brain cell activity at a resolution that has never been achieved before.”
The development of this technology will allow researchers to investigate and understand in greater depth, in animal models, the origins of neurological diseases and conditions such as epilepsy, as well as other cognitive functions such as learning and memory.
“Recording this activity over a long period of time allows you to see changes that occur over time, in the activity itself,” says Pierre Wijdenes, a PhD student in the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Program and the study’s first author. “This helps to understand why certain neurons form connections with each other and why others won’t.”
The cross-faculty team created the chip to mimic the natural biological contact between brain cells, essentially tricking the brain cells into believing that they are connecting with other brain cells. As a result, the cells immediately connect with the chip, thereby allowing researchers to view and record the two-way communication that would go on between two normal functioning brain cells.
“We simulated what mother-nature does in nature and provided brain cells with an environment where they feel as if they are at home,” says Syed. “This has allowed us to increase the sensitivity of our readings and help neurons build a long-term relationship with our electronic chip.”
While the chip is currently used to analyze animal brain cells, this increased resolution and the ability to make long-term recordings is bringing the technology one step closer to being effective in the recording of human brain cell activity.
“Human brain cell signals are smaller and therefore require more sensitive electronic tools to be designed to pick up the signals,” says Colin Dalton, Adjunct Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Schulich School of Engineering and a co-author on this study. Dalton is also the Facility Manager of the University of Calgary’s Advanced Micro/nanosystems Integration Facility (AMIF), where the chips were designed and fabricated.
Researchers hope the technology will one day be used as a tool to bring personalized therapeutic options to patients facing neurological disease.
Collaboration between quantum scientists and City of Calgary sets a distance record for teleporting a photon state over a fibre network
What if you could behave like the crew on the Starship Enterprise and teleport yourself home or anywhere else in the world? As a human, you’re probably not going to realize this any time soon; if you’re a photon, you might want to keep reading.
Through a collaboration between the University of Calgary, The City of Calgary and researchers in the United States, a group of physicists led by Wolfgang Tittel, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Calgary have successfully demonstrated teleportation of a photon (an elementary particle of light) over a straight-line distance of six kilometres using The City of Calgary’s fibre optic cable infrastructure. The project began with an Urban Alliance seed grant in 2014.
This accomplishment, which set a new record for distance of transferring a quantum state by teleportation, has landed the researchers a spot in the prestigious Nature Photonics scientific journal. The finding was published back-to-back with a similar demonstration by a group of Chinese researchers. Read the article, “Quantum Teleportation Across a Metropolitan Fiber Network.”
“Such a network will enable secure communication without having to worry about eavesdropping, and allow distant quantum computers to connect,” says Tittel.
Experiment draws on ‘spooky action at a distance’
The experiment is based on the entanglement property of quantum mechanics, also known as “spooky action at a distance” — a property so mysterious that not even Einstein could come to terms with it.
“Being entangled means that the two photons that form an entangled pair have properties that are linked regardless of how far the two are separated,” explains Tittel. “When one of the photons was sent over to City Hall, it remained entangled with the photon that stayed at the University of Calgary.”
Next, the photon whose state was teleported to the university was generated in a third location in Calgary and then also travelled to City Hall where it met the photon that was part of the entangled pair.
“What happened is the disembodied transfer of the photon’s quantum state onto the remaining photon of the entangled pair, which is the one that remained six kilometres away at the university,” says Tittel.
City’s accessible dark fibre makes research possible
The research could not be possible without access to the proper technology. One of the critical pieces of infrastructure that support quantum networking is accessible dark fibre. Dark fibre, so named because of its composition — a single optical cable with no electronics or network equipment on the alignment — doesn’t interfere with quantum technology.
The City of Calgary is building and provisioning dark fibre to enable next-generation municipal services today and for the future.
“By opening The City’s dark fibre infrastructure to the private and public sector, non-profit companies, and academia, we help enable the development of projects like quantum encryption and create opportunities for further research, innovation and economic growth in Calgary,” said Tyler Andruschak, project manager with Innovation and Collaboration at The City of Calgary.
“The university receives secure access to a small portion of our fibre optic infrastructure and The City may benefit in the future by leveraging the secure encryption keys generated out of the lab’s research to protect our critical infrastructure,” said Andruschak. In order to deliver next-generation services to Calgarians, The City has been increasing its fibre optic footprint, connecting all City buildings, facilities and assets.
Timed to within one millionth of one millionth of a second
As if teleporting a photon wasn’t challenging enough, Tittel and his team encountered a number of other roadblocks along the way.
Due to changes in the outdoor temperature, the transmission time of photons from their creation point to City Hall varied over the course of a day — the time it took the researchers to gather sufficient data to support their claim. This change meant that the two photons would not meet at City Hall.
“The challenge was to keep the photons’ arrival time synchronized to within 10 pico-seconds,” says Tittel. “That is one trillionth, or one millionth of one millionth of a second.”
Secondly, parts of their lab had to be moved to two locations in the city, which as Tittel explains was particularly tricky for the measurement station at City Hall which included state-of-the-art superconducting single-photon detectors developed by the National Institute for Standards and Technology, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“Since these detectors only work at temperatures less than one degree above absolute zero the equipment also included a compact cryostat,” said Tittel.
Milestone towards a global quantum Internet
This demonstration is arguably one of the most striking manifestations of a puzzling prediction of quantum mechanics, but it also opens the path to building a future quantum internet, the long-term goal of the Tittel group.
The University of Calgary (or UCalgary) is a public research university located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Founded in 1966 (after operating as the Calgary branch of the University of Alberta since 1945) the University of Calgary is composed of 14 faculties and more than 85 research institutes and centres.
More than 25,000 undergraduate and 6,000 graduate students are currently enrolled. The University of Calgary has graduated over 155,000 alumni in 152 countries, including the current Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, and Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk.
The University of Calgary is one of Canada’s top research universities (based on the number of Canada Research Chairs) and is a member of the U15 (the 15 most research-intensive universities in Canada).
The University of Calgary is the birthplace of a number of important inventions, including the neurochip. The university’s sponsored research revenue of $352 million, with total revenues exceeding $1.1 billion, is one of the highest in the country. Being in Calgary, with Canada’s highest concentration of engineers and geoscientists, the Faculty of Science, Department of Geosciences and the Schulich School of Engineering maintain ties to the petroleum and geoscience industry.
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