In the field of biomedicine known as neural engineering, also known as neuroengineering, techniques from neuroscience and biology are combined with engineering technologies. Neural engineering’s goals include advancing knowledge of how the human nervous system functions and enhancing human performance, particularly following illness or injury. The field is multidisciplinary in that it draws from a variety of engineering disciplines, including computer sciences, robotics, material sciences, signal processing, and systems modeling and simulation, as well as from the neurological sciences (especially neurobiology and neurology). Examples of the range of topics and applications covered by the field include neural tissue engineering, brain-computer interfaces, neuroimaging, neuroinformatics, and neurorobotics.
Although neural engineering has a wide range of potential applications, the field presents unique opportunities for enhancing motor and sensory function following severe damage to the human central nervous system, such as that brought on by a stroke, traumatic brain injury, or spinal cord injury. For those conditions, new technological advancements can be used to assist in rerouting neural signals around damaged areas of the brain or spinal cord or to replace one type of lost neural signal with another type.
Researchers have studied recordings from various cortical areas made during typical voluntary behaviors using animal models that were created in the field, providing insight into human neural pathways. Filtered and processed neural signals can be used to program computers, operate simple robots, or trigger electrical stimulators to control limb muscles. Alternative methods enable the delivery of skin or other sensory area signals to the cerebral cortex through different channels, avoiding damaged areas. For instance, a variety of electronic sensors can pick up sensory information from the skin or the eyes and transmit it to the cortex as electrical stimulus trains.
Other advancements in the field include improvements in neural tissue engineering, which aims to repair and regenerate nerves, improvements in neural recording systems that enable long-term recording from small groups of nerve fibers in peripheral muscle or skin nerves, and the creation of implantable stimulators to aid in the restoration of motor function following cortical damage or to speed up the recovery of walking in people with spinal cord injuries. For instance, neural cuffs that are implanted around the nerves innervating the sole of the foot can be used to accurately program muscle nerve stimulation by sensing foot contact while walking or other phases of locomotion. Subscribe to Britannica Premium to get access to special content.
Introduction to “Neuroengineering: Where Biology Meets Technology” (PhD Candidate Kait Folweiler)
What do neural engineers do?
In laboratories, neural engineers invest a lot of time investigating and creating new devices and therapies. Here are a few of a neural engineer’s primary responsibilities:
What is neural engineering?
The biomedical engineering field of neural engineering, also known as neuroengineering, focuses on studying and modifying the body’s nervous system. The brain, spine, sensory organs, and nerves make up the nervous system. Neural engineering combines medical science and engineering principles to better understand, fix, and work on the nervous systems of people. This could involve developing bioengineered components to improve the human nervous system or treating neurological conditions.
Applications in neural engineering
Numerous disciplines exist in the field of neural engineering, each with a unique application in engineering and medicine. Here are some common applications and disciplines in neural engineering:
Researchers can use 3D images to help them map the brain using the field of neural imaging, which combines neural engineering and neuroscience. These pictures serve as references for medical professionals and researchers to comprehend the fundamental makeup of the nervous system and any conditions that might affect it. Neural engineers are able to produce incredibly accurate images of the brain, spine, nerves, and even neurons using specialized hardware and software.
Advanced technological devices called neural interfaces link neurological pathways to external devices. Engineers help design, test and develop these systems. They also research their efficacy and practicality. In order to restore specific motor or cognitive functions in patients with special conditions, doctors use neural interfaces. For instance, a neural interface could help a person with Parkinson’s disease regain their speech or mobility.
An emerging field called neurorobotics aims to replicate human neurological systems in robots. Muscle memory, reflexes, speech patterns, memory, and other neurological processes are all included in this. Engineers research how the nervous system of the body operates and how to replicate those processes in a machine that is not alive. Engineers frequently participate in the design and construction of these machines and frequently manage their upkeep.
The field of neuromechanics focuses on understanding the mechanics of movement and how the nervous system affects the musculoskeletal system. Medical professionals and researchers can better understand human locomotion and how various traumas, disorders, and other disruptive behaviors can affect it thanks to neuromechanics. Additionally, engineers may contribute to the creation of neuromechanical tools for tracking and mapping patient movement, such as assistance with movement.
Neural prostheses are tools that assist people who have lost their neurological function in regaining some of it. These may consist of internal or external devices like dorsal column stimulators. These cutting-edge devices attach to the spine and give patients remote control over their pain thresholds, tremor, spasticity, and rigidity. These devices are designed, developed, and maintained by engineers, who also instruct other medical professionals on how to use the equipment.
The targeted improvement of particular neurological processes, such as thinking, moving, or biochemical reactions, is known as neural enhancement. Engineers research how improvements to the nervous system benefit it, how patients react to them, and what improvements go beyond what is currently possible. For instance, engineers might create a hearing aid that improves hearing by using electrical impulses from the brain.
Common neural engineering career requirements
The following are important career requirements for neural engineering:
Bachelors degree in biomedical science or engineering
Most neural engineers have a bachelor’s degree in biomedical science, engineering, or a related field. Obtaining a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution enables you to build a solid foundation in engineering and the biomedical sciences. Many engineers have a master’s degree or higher in their field, but the level of education needed for a position may vary. Engineers must have a bachelor’s degree or be enrolled in a bachelor’s program in order to qualify for an internship, volunteer position, or the FE and PE licenses.
Compared to other biomedical engineering positions, neural engineering positions frequently have higher educational requirements. This field necessitates a significant depth of specialized education due to it being an emerging applied science. Universities are establishing programs in the area quickly, and a Master of Science in neural engineering can provide you with the training and credentials you need. However, if you’re only interested in research positions, you might want to consider pursuing a doctorate in neural engineering.
Many employers in the fields of neural and biomedical engineering demand prior professional experience. Internships provide a good opportunity to gain this initial experience. These may be paid or unpaid, but they all offer the chance to work with an experienced engineer and give you direct, practical engineering experience. Numerous volunteer and internship opportunities are available through the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) to gain work experience in the field.
An FE, or Fundamentals of Engineering license from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), is typically held by engineers. The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) also offers licensure. A Fundamentals of Engineering license demonstrates your proficiency in engineering fundamentals and your ability to apply those skills in the workplace. To obtain their FE license, prospective engineers must pass a written exam, but each state has its own requirements for engineer licensing. Be sure to check local guidelines.
Engineers take the PE, or Principles of Engineering exam, and then return to the location where they obtained their license. A four-year degree, passing the FE exam, and at least four years of training under a licensed PE are prerequisites for taking this exam. The exam assesses your knowledge of the engineering principles and the relevant industries. If you pass this test, you can apply for an engineering license and work in your state.
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What is meant by neural engineering?
Recent developments in neural engineering have helped people with paralysis regain their mobility, people with movement disorders reduce their symptoms, people with chronic pain get their hearing back, and people with sensory deficits get sensory perception.
What degree do you need for neural engineering?
Nearly all neural engineers have at least a bachelor’s degree in biomedical science, engineering, or a closely related field. A bachelor’s degree from a recognized university enables you to develop the fundamental understanding of engineering and biomedical sciences.
What is the purpose of neural engineering?
An expanding field of study called “neural engineering” employs engineering methods to study and control the behavior of the central or peripheral nervous systems.
What do neural engineers make?
Almost all neural engineers have a bachelor’s degree in biomedical science, engineering, or a related field. A bachelor’s degree from a recognized university enables you to develop the fundamental understanding of engineering and biomedical sciences.