The Brain Trainer

Brain Probe

at the labs / out of the lab

   Having worked as an engineering tech at the advanced labs at NCR, I left to return to Miami to take a job offer at Criteria Recording Studio, the most prominent studio at the time.

   The BEE GEES, Steve Stills, Eric Clapton, the Allman Brothers, the music stars of seventies rock and many more recorded there. I found it a very unpleasant place to work, a mistrusting, backstabbing coke fueled madhouse, after six months, I decided that I needed to return to the solid sciences.

   I saw an ad for a job in a Neurology Lab. The interesting sidebar is that since I had been interested in consciousness for many years and had devoured scores of popular books on the brain and the nervous system  I had then turned in frustration to technical books, on the brain and the nervous system mind, purchasing books at the University of Miami Medical Center and had and read over a dozen books on Neuroanatomy, Neurophysiology, and Neurochemistry. 

   I showed up for my interview with my technical credentials and a long list of questions based on my readings in neural anatomy a neurophysiology. I was hired on the spot.

   The project was to build a prototype Neural Stimulator the last version was approximately 8 inches by six inches the new version that i was to build would be 4 inches by 6 inches with over forty chips and forty discrete electronic components, densely packed and wired with 22 gauge wire.

I was intrigued by the project, even more when I learned that we were affiliated with the premiere neurological lab on the planet. The labs of Dr. Iccles in Switzerland would be used to verify the quality of our equipment.

I worked non-stop wiring and rewiring as we went from revision N to revision, double S. The senior designer was tinkering with the software as I implemented and tested the chipset and the interfaces. It was a hectic four months, but we now had a device that instead of being adjustable from 5 volts plus or minus, our new devise was capable of 15 volts plus or minus.
Instead of being capable of creating pulses in sine waves only we could now generate signals in square waves, sine waves saw tooth waves and at frequencies not limited to the former models 10,000 hertz to 20,000 hertz now we could manage frequencies from 10 hertz to 100,000 hertz.
We had taken a modest device with quite limited parameters, and upgraded it in every direction, removing every limitation, until it stood alone on a high hill. Which both its strength and its awesome danger. Often with my attention focused through a magnifying lens making breaking hunderd and hundreds of tiny connections, between resistors capacitors, microchip op amps and three legged transistors, I would think about the signals that would rush through these microscopic circuits and ultimately reach out to touch human minds, reconnecting limbs, spine and brain. Tiny electronic promethean fire and a labyrinthine channels that will frame this leaping electronic laughter.

Day after day, I aimed my tools on the small circuit board, connecting and reconnecting the fine wire highways that processed the nerve liberating signals finally after weeks of living in a world constrained and expanded with my magnifying lens until I knew each wire each electronic intersection like it was my childhood neighborhood. I would look up after chasing my tiny wired roadways at the lab surrounding me and after blinking for a few moments gradually reacquaint myself with the gigantic world outside my circuit citadel. The day finally came when I had to bring my city below and put it to the test in the larger human world that towered above her. I almost reluctantly made the final connections that would take my prototype and put it to the test. The engineering bench had it’s season just as surely as the farmer field. During the planting and nurturing season, we circuit scientists built and cultivated our electronic beads and berries but harvest time would come, and the harvest season of testing would begin.

I connected power I connected the frequency tester, I connected the oscilloscope and hit the power button. Slowly I tested each parameter and logged each test. The testing would have to be rigorous. Slowly carefully I checked the frequencies, as I walked her through the settings I checked the sine waves, square waves, the saw toothed waves, the square waves. I tested the varying voltage with each wave form. I tested and varied the settings as I varied the frequencies.

I had to be sure, that the device was stable. That the frequency would stay steady as the wave form changed, that the wave form was locked as I varied the voltage and as I recorded each setting, adjusting the frequency, adjusting the amperage adjusting the wave form. One by one as I performed and recorded each test I began to feel greater and greater confidence that the device was performing to spec. Only then di dI interrupt the senior engineer on the project. I could not give the good news until all the bench tests had been performed at the capabilities verified and checked. Then the final bench check was a week burn in. The “burn in” required that the device be left plugged in and the tests rerun, and recorded daily for a week. The conclusion of the “burn in” would allow me to announce to the engineer that we had a working unit.

He said, great I’ll be heading to Geneva in a few days, and I’ll take the prototype, you can begin the second unit. Can I keep it under burn in until you leave. Sure, probably not a bad idea. Keep up the testing. We can always use the additional documentation. His trip was delayed a week, but I could happily inform him as I packed the device for the trip overseas, that every time I tested the device not only did it perform flawlessly but the calibration values were still locked, during the two week burn in they hadn’t drifted in the least. The senior design engineer was pleased I had finished the fabrication process in half the time allocated so he was able to finalize his travel plans. He and our “Neuro-Pacer” were headed to Geneva to be tested in the finest neurological lab on the planet.

Our lab was buried deep in the bowels of a huge medical industrial complex called NAB. NAB was home to a variety of other companies some smaller like our lab, we had two projects the “Neuro-Pacer ” Project that I was fabricating, and another project that was already in the field testing step. It was a very specialized optical surgery pump used for retinal surgery. It was used to keep the pressure balanced during inter ocular surgery for example retinal reattachment. We didn’t see too much of that project manager, he worked very much on his own.

I carefully packed up the system for its transport across the big waters. I wasn’t sure if it would be “hand carried” the whole way so I packed it’s delicate electronics in double layer of bubble wrap and then secured in styrofoam “peanuts” just for good measure. I had been given a days repreive to complete my rough notes so that they were ship-shape for the record, since we expected this unit to be the foundation of a new technology system for the treatment of a wide range of neurological disorders.

The box headed overseas and I dug into my magnifying lens and started placing chip holders, resistors and capacitors and op amps on the bare perf-board, changing my scope of vision from the working lab down to the level of ultra thin hair-thin wires microscopic solder joints and the tiny silver legs of an IC chips. Seemingly a million miles from trees and streets and roadways and other humans, with only my ears, connecting me through the classical music I listen to while working to any larger macroscopic world. It literally is like taking a mental elevator from the walk around work, down to the level of electrons where gates are transistors and openers are either op amps or capacitors, where resistors slow you down and amplifiers, blow things up where counters do work just llke clerks in the office, and LEDs are the sign shop, where “eat at joes” can mean many different things.

A few days passed, and I took a phone call, it was the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) they asked if I could confirm that we were building a new hybrid or “Souped Up” version of the “Neuro-Stimulator”. The FDA scientist asked what I could tell him about the new device? I explained I was the engineering tech working on the project but due to my confidentiality agreement I could release no information beyond confirming that there was work underway on a new version with extended features. He asked if I could just tell him was the frequency range expanded or was the voltage range extended? I explained that I couldn’t go into any of the details of the expanded capability other than to say, that yes there was a new version “under development”.