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Open-Source Hardware For Neuroscience 41

the_newsbeagle (2532562) writes "The equipment that neuroscientists use to record brain signals is plenty expensive, with a single system costing upward of $60,000. But it turns out that it's not too complicated to build your own, for the cost of about $3000. Two MIT grad students figured out how to do just that, and are distributing both manufactured systems and their designs through their website, Open Ephys. Their goal is to launch an open-source hardware movement in neuroscience, so researchers can spend less time worrying about the gear they need and more time doing experiments."
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Open-Source Hardware For Neuroscience

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  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <> on Friday June 13, 2014 @03:10AM (#47227805)

    Their goal is to launch an open-source hardware movement in neuroscience, so researchers can spend less time worrying about the gear they need and more time doing experiments.

    My experiences with lab-built equipment in academia suggest that building your own equipment is not really a good way to "spend less time worrying about the gear". Usually you will spend quite a lot of your time worrying about DIY gear. The advantages are not in time saved, but in two other things: 1) you can build gear that would be prohibitively expensive to purchase; and 2) you can customize it in-house.

    • by Thanshin ( 1188877 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @03:32AM (#47227865)

      Based on the comparative nature of "less", I would guess it depends on how much time one spends worrying about how to get the money to buy the prohibitively expensive equipment.

      • Agreed! Firstly, as the P pointed out, a significant amount of time goes into getting grants to fund the experiments. This isn't going to go away, funding is still required, but it will mean that YOUR lab now has a chance of getting the grant, as opposed to the lab that already has the machine available for use because it was funded by the last grant. This means a wider variety of labs doing the science, which is a good thing. Also, having worked for a commercial science institute that really pushed the ide
        • by smaddox ( 928261 )

          I tend to agree, but it does matter what the equipment is. I would hate to have to design, build, and maintain our own lock-in amplifier or x-ray diffractometer. I guess it depends how good the available products and companies are.

      • I'm thinking one just goes over the Analog Engineering Department, and the Mechanical Engineering Department and says, "Pardon me, I have a question on how to build this..."
    • by mandginguero ( 1435161 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @04:04AM (#47227953)

      True, but imagine how bringing the cost down can lower the entry barrier for things such as teaching labs. My best course by far in undergrad was an electrophysiology course where we recorded action potentials in earthworms with just a couple electrodes and a differential amplifier hooked up to an old macintosh. Getting these technologies lower in cost may not alleviate quality concerns for high throughput research (which is what some of the quoted established company reps are saying in the article). But imagine how cheap the next iteration of these could be? An order of magnitude lower for the openBCI 8 channel EEG system []. And with scalp potentials and a 512 hz sample rate you can measure muscle potentials too, not just brain. If you could find a way to increase the sample rate you could do things like galvanic skin response too.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Speaking as a neuroscientist (who works at MIT's Picower Institute with the OpenEphys creators) I don't think it's really true that the average end-user will spend more time with worrying about this hardware than they would a commercial system. That's true if you're starting from scratch, but this is basically a complete solution already with little-to-no development needed for users interested in doing standard extracellular ephys. Once the board is populated (a day or two at most, with a good set of dir

      • by Trepidity ( 597 )

        That's a good point, if this is more like a polished, well-tested kit solution, then it won't be nearly as time-consuming as a one-off DIY system to build and maintain.

        • Just to clarify this, the current system can be put together without any assembly, everything is pretty much plug n play by now (windows, mac & linux). You can of course customize things as much as you like. As for the data quality, measuring quality for this type of system is not at all hard. It is well known what the data is supposed to look like, and if it doesn't, its usually pretty obvious. It's a bit like a microphone and a sound card, all you need is to play a known signal and then compare the r
      • upmod the parent comment if you have the points....

  • This Kickstarter project looks promising. []

  • So how does it differ from OpenEEG project? I read the summary and I read a couple of paragraphs from their site, but it was all some round talk. You can get fully assembled 2 channel (uses smt components - it's small) OpenEEG device from Olimex for 99 euros (+electrodes and shipping costs), if you are not into soldering.
    • The main difference is that the open ephys system is designed for recording neurons, not just scalp potentials and scales to very high channel numbers >128 channels at rates of 30kHz, which is fast enough to do extracellular electrophysiology. That being said, a few labs are starting to use open ephys for EEG ( https://open-ephys.atlassian.n... [] ).
  • "Brain signals" (Score:4, Interesting)

    by RyanFenton ( 230700 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @08:41AM (#47228911)

    This has always bothered me with the current state of neuroscience: The whole point of nerves/brain matter is to communicate/remember/transform information, but we're still relying on crude external cues like heat/bloodflow/electrical activity to tell us "somethings happening", and that's pretty much it. It always bothers me when I hear the term "brain signals".

    Nerves should be able to query their neighbors about their state, and the state of other nerves - otherwise, they wouldn't really be able to form something like a mind (as in, "the mind is what the brain does"). Why still can't we find a way to just "ask" the nerves what their state is?

    Even in our simulations, we just represent nerves as nodes that grow associations - but those associations are useless, unless they can be traversed in queries by the system, to gather inputs, and send outputs at all levels.

    Are we getting anywhere close to a stage where we can communicate with nerves to use that same communication system that logically must exist for it to function? Seems like even with limitations, that would be a LOT more useful than analogously inferring from traffic levels what the function of buildings in a city are, like we're doing now.

    Ryan Fenton

    • You noticed that the described project is used to implant electrodes into the brain of live animals (mostly rodents)? The aim is to measure an electrical signal that can be associated with a small cluster of neurons.

      This indeed sounds cruel (and I think it is), and for such research the ethical cost has to be related to the scientific gain in a reasonable ratio.

      Btw, I know researchers that say you can pull out the electrodes after the experiment and the animal could live on without much impediment. But the

    • Sure, but there are a few issues:

      1) Nerve signals aren't purely electrical, but electrochemical. You can do brute-force stimulation or detection by purely electrical means, but it's hard on the nerves (literally).

      2) Nerves are tiny, and there are lots and lots of them, and they aren't arranged in a regular, predictable fashion. You can't build a standard module that plugs into any random individual human's nervous system and just works.

      3) The most interesting nerves in the brain are hard to get to, because

  • I seem to recall that years and years ago Steve Ciarcia wrote a series of article in his Circuit Cellar magazine about making sensors and a home built EEG. If I recall correctly it used relatively inexpensive parts and off the shelf sensors when necessary. All designed for the hobbyist and much lower in cost. Of course I may be wrong. But still wondering, whats the big hoo haw about something this expensive?

The most important early product on the way to developing a good product is an imperfect version.