Ethan Mok (2018 UTRA)




Project Title: Real Time Demodulation of Networked Neural Implants (Advisor: Arto Nurmikko; School of Engineering)

What is your major/concentration?
I am a special concentrator in Engineering (the Special Sc.B), focusing on the intersection of electrical engineering and neuroscience.

What year will you graduate? 
I graduate in 2019.

Where are you from?
I'm from New York City.

What were your academic interests in high school?
Even in high school I was extremely interested in neuroengineering and neuroscience, as well as wearable electronics and assistive technologies of various forms. I also enjoyed writing a fair amount.

What is your favorite activity outside of the classroom?
I am a semi-competitive Smash player with the Brown Esports Team here on campus. I play probably more than is healthy.

Why did you decide to pursue research in brain science?
I am primarily interested in the extension of human capabilities via neurotechnology. Such an extension will certainly require the development of a high bandwidth connection between the brain and an external system - and seeing as Brown has an excellent track record of designing such devices, I took it upon myself to try and get into one of those labs, to contribute to such work.

Can you tell us a little about your project and what you found?
Current neural recording devices are usually arrays of silicon electrodes (roughly 100 to an array) that are pushed into the cortex, and wired out of the brain through a connector mounted on the skull, and then to a processing unit. Such devices have worked extremely well for initiatives like Braingate, but are not only bulky, but limited in the number of neurons they can record from. The Nurmikko lab's "neurograin" project is designed to address this problem by creating a network of grain-sized neural implants and scattering large numbers of them (1000+) in the brain, where each will be able to record from a single neuron. They then wirelessly transmit this information to a portable processing unit. My research has been in the design of the real time circuitry that goes on this platform. Because the data is PSK modulated, with a variety of frequency offsets, noise, and chip-to-chip variations, having a system to demodulate and denoise this data is crucial for being able to recover the actual neural signals from the chips. As of now, we have successfully managed to record and demodulate (test) data from chips embedded in rat cortex, which bodes well for our future fully in-vivo experiments.

What is your most memorable experience from your training in brain science?
The thing that got me into neuroscience originally was a paper by Rafael Yuste, a professor at Columbia University, on the optimality of the arrangement of dendritic spines in neurons. I later, through Professor Nurmikko's lab and the DARPA NESD program got to actually meet Prof. Yuste and talk with him for a short while, which was very cool.

What have you learned from this experience that you are applying to other aspects of your Brown degree?
Becoming more comfortable with HDL, RF communications and hardware, microfabrication techniques, implant materials, and the like have been instrumental in helping me plan out the rest of my time at Brown, as I complete the requirements of my specialized degree.

What would you like to do after graduating?
I am both applying graduate school, as well as variety of specialized neurotech startups such as Kernel and most prominently Neuralink (of Wait, But Why? fame), places that my work at Brown has uniquely prepared me for.