2011's 10 Biggest Moments in Science


Scientists Create a Microbrain

Behold, the mighty microbrain!
Behold, the mighty microbrain!
Image courtesy University of Pittsburgh

The human mind remains a bundle of mysteries, but science continues to unravel it at a startling pace. The Blue Brain Project, for instance, aims to create a virtual model of a working human brain by 2020. We're not quite there yet, but in 2011 researchers at the University of Pittsburgh did manage to create an artificial microbrain, derived from rat brain cells. Composed of a scant 40 to 60 neurons, it was capable of 12 seconds of short-term memory.

The researchers pulled off this amazing feat by adding brain cells from embryonic rats to a silicon disk coated in proteins. The cells clung to the proteins and grew together into a solid ring. When stimulated with electricity, the neurons in the microbrain carried the pulse for 12 seconds -- essentially "remembering" the stimulus.

The next stop, however, isn't to place the microbrain in an artificial rat. The researchers plan to use their creation to study the transmission of electrical signals in the brain and better understand the inner workings of human memory.