|The Future of Medicine Through Bioengineering - Ayden Jacob|
The ability to suppress certain incoming information while our brain processes other vital bits of data is imperative to human function. The ability for particular areas of the brain to do this, and in relation to which brain waves, has been discovered by a group of researchers. "When we have different things competing for our attention, we can only be aware of so much of what we see," said Kyle Mathewson, Beckman Institute Postdoctoral Fellow. "For example, when you're driving, you might really be concentrating on obeying traffic signals." Using both EEG and EROS techniques, they were able to utilize the properties of infrared light passing through optical fibers to measure alterations in optical properties in particular areas of the cerebral cortex. "It exploits the fact that when neurons are active, they swell a little, becoming slightly more transparent to light: this allows us to determine when a particular part of the cortex is processing information, as well as where the activity occurs," explained the scientists. "We found that the same brain regions known to control our attention are involved in suppressing the alpha waves and improving our ability to detect hard-to-see targets," said Diane Beck, a member of the Beckman's Cognitive Neuroscience Group. "Knowing where the waves originate means we can target that area specifically with electrical stimulation" said Mathewson. "Or we can also give people moment-to-moment feedback, which could be used to alert drivers that they are not paying attention and should increase their focus on the road ahead, or in other situations alert students in a classroom that they need to focus more, or athletes, or pilots and equipment operators."