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A Neuroscientist and Fashion Designer are Profiled

Aired September 28, 2013 - 14:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Welcome to THE NEXT LIST. Today designer Diana Eng melds high tech with high fashion.

DIANA ENG, FASHION DESIGNER: One of the my favorite materials to work with is thermocrometic, which means it changes color with temperatures.

GUPTA: But first, step into the lab of Dr. Miguel Nicolelis.

DR. MIGUEL NICOLELIS, SCIENTIST, PHYSICIAN: Today we're going to show examples of interfaces that you can only see in this laboratory. Nobody in the world can do what you're going to see here. She is going with her mind.

GUPTA: So this is her doing this right now?


GUPTA: Here computers and robots powered by your thoughts.

NICOLELIS: It sounds like a move, sounds like space odyssey.

GUPTA: Nicolelis is a world-renowned neuroscientist, unlocking the language of the brain.

KATIE ZUANG, PH.D.: Some people think you're doing brain interfaces, you're going to read your mind. And that's really not what we're doing. What we are trying to do is extract information from the brain to move things, to help people regain mobility that they have lost or maybe never had.

GUPTA: And his mind controlled exoskeleton, a sort of vertical wheelchair, is the cutting edge of a new field called neuro- prosthetics.

NICOLELIS: So I went to the Brazilian government and said what if we shocked the world?

GUPTA: His plan, empower a paralyzed teen to kick off the 2014 World Cup in Brazil -- and teach the world that science knows no boundaries.

NICOLELIS: Now we are in a race to try to get a demonstration going.

GUPTA: Buckle up, you're about to meet Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, the Brazilian visionary on the fast track to the future. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and this is THE NEXT LIST.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are innovators, game changers, people pushing themselves, moving us all forward. They're the next scientists, musicians, poets, the next makers, dreamers, teachers, and geniuses. They are THE NEXT LIST.

NICOLELIS: Welcome to the private lab of the Center for Neuro- Engineering at Duke University in North Carolina. This is actually the place where this idea of linking brains to robots was invented. We call it brain-machine interfaces.

My name is Miguel Nicolelis, and I'm a neuroscientist.

Brain-machine interface literally means connecting living brain tissue with artificial devices. This can be mechanical, electronic, and even computational. So this connection is literal. Our brains, they are made of cells, circuits formed by cells, so we have about 100 billion cells interconnecting our brains. These neurons connect with one another through electrical signals. That's how other memories are viewed, our emotions are created. That's how we move our body, how we sense the world around us. It's all through the same basic alphabet and language.

And in the case of primates we are able to show that you can read these signals and send them to devices, and these devices will move according to the voluntary orientation of the primate. So what you see here is an eagle's view of the top of implant. Each one of these is a connector, with wires that are implanted in different brain regions.

This is one of the probes. This is a three dimension recording device. And these are the connectors, so where we put our wires. And as you will see in a moment, these signals can be broadcast.

Hear the popcorn sound in the back?

GUPTA: It does sound like popcorn.

So what are we looking at here?

NICOLELIS: This is actually a brainstorm, the real thing.

GUPTA: And by brainstorm you mean a burst?

NICOLELIS: A burst of electrical stimulus coming from hundreds the neurons over time. This is the alphabet of the brain.

GUPTA: Is it different to work with primates? Obviously a lot of people always bring up concerns about doing animal studies overall. What has been your experience?

NICOLELIS: For us, it's been for these two decades we've not had any type of problem. The monkeys play the video games as a kid plays, and when they realize they can play a game without moving at all, just staring something and they get oranges, they start cooing.

GUPTA: So this is her doing this right now?


GUPTA: And she's just basically trying to put the cursor.

NICOLELIS: Exactly. She has to put the cursor inside the ball. And she's just there. She's not doing anything but drinking juice and controlling the cursor, of course, with her brain.

I think that was the biggest surprise 10 years ago when the monkeys realized they can get the reward without contracting their muscles. They just stop and continue to imagine the movement they want to make. And they computer would do the rest.

GUPTA: Do you remember the first time you saw that? What was that like?

NICOLELIS: That was with our favorite monkey, Aurora. We put a joystick in front of Aurora. She was playing the game. And then all of a sudden we removed the joystick, and we let her figure it out. We connected the brain machine. And all of a sudden she starts playing the game and got free juice, like a good Brazilian, drinking free juice for nothing, no movement, no work. It was unbelievable.

FRANCESCO CLARK: The second that I dove in, my chin hit the bottom of the pool, and my head snapped back with such force that it shattered my C3-C4 vertebrae. I was completely awake, completely conscious, and paralyzed.


NICOLELIS: So brain-machine interfaces were created in this lab first to study the properties, the physiological properties of the brain. We wanted to understand how large populations of brain cells interact to generate behavior. But the moment we started, we realized instantaneously that there was a tremendous potential application for rehabilitation for paralyzed patients.

CLARK: I had a spinal cord injury 10 years ago in a pool diving accident. The second I dove in, my chin hit the bottom of the pool and my head snapped back with such force that it shattered my C3-C4 vertebrae. I was completely awake, completely conscious, and paralyzed.

GUPTA: This leads to a pretty big potential moment. What are you hoping?

NICOLELIS: We are hoping to demonstrate the first prototype of the exoskeleton. So this is like a robotic vest. And that, you know, we could use in whole idea of linking brains to a robotic device to get a young Brazilian to actually open the World Cup by giving the kickoff of the competition.

CLARK: To imagine a teenage girl wheel herself onto the field, and get up and then run, that's fantastic. NICOLELIS: So the person wears the robotic vest, and he or she will use his or her brain activity to actually control the movements directly of this vest. And the vested will provide some sort of tactile feedback to the person, like temperature, touch. The concept is to get these signals translated into a language that the brain can interpret.

GUPTA: People think of the motor thing. When you look at walking, for example, how important is that?

NICOLELIS: It's essential. It's very important to know when you're touching the ground so you don't fall. And it's also very important to know when you're using your hands. You need to know how much force to apply.

CLARK: You're talking about daily activities that mean real independence for people that are now dependent on somebody else to help them.

NICOLELIS: What you see here is the first prototype of the exoskeleton. These are two legs, these are pneumatic actuators, so we dress the monkey with this exoskeleton, and the monkey learns to walk according to what he's seeing on the screen.

ZUANG: Once the monkey is trained to think about these walking movements, we can actually have the monkey control this exoskeleton using its thoughts alone without actually moving its legs.

NICOLELIS: But we have to view the human device that we are in the process of doing.

We also have to basically get the best possible brain derived signal to control this exoskeleton. And now we are in a race to try to get a demonstration going.

GUPTA: How good is the brain-machine interface goods to get do you think over the next several years?

NICOLELIS: I think it all depends on how many cells we can record simultaneously. If we can get to 50,000, 40,000-50,000 neurons simultaneously, we are going to see a big, big shift, because we really want to have a full body exoskeleton controlled by brain activity.

GUPTA: Maybe somebody who is quadriplegic, for example.

NICOLELIS: Yes, somebody who is quadriplegic, people with neuro- degenerative disorders.

CLARK: It went from an idea that was impossible when I was first injured 10 years ago to probable to inevitable.

NICOLELIS: In our lifetime, we will be walking in New York or San Paulo, and we will see a person walking the streets that could not walk before. I think in our lifetime we will see that.

GUPTA: It kind of gives me shivers.

NICOLELIS: Me too. I've been waiting for that for 30 years. I think we will be able to see it.

GUPTA: Still ahead, from high tech to high fashion. Innovator Diana Eng lights up the show room with her interactive designs.


GUPTA: Welcome back to THE NEXT LIST. It's time now to meet Diana Eng, a self-confessed science geek. She's on a mission to bring innovation to the fashion world, and she's doing it with some unlikely tools for a fashion designer.

Diana blends cutting-edge technology with design conception from nature and science to create clothing and accessories with a rich story.

DIANA ENG, FASHION DESIGNER: Like a technology, math and science and how to integrate that into the fashion design.

GUPTA: She painstakingly researches her designs, sometimes for year, finding inspiration in some very unlikely places.

ENG: Those are real ladybugs.

GUPTA: CNN's Zoraida Sambolin takes us on a surprising journey into the mind and designs of Diana Eng.


ENG: I like to work with electronics in fashion. That's kind of what people stereo typically will think of as adding technology to a garment. I try to integrate it where the circuit is a part of the design itself. So I work with conductive threat, which basically replaces wires.

SAMBOLIN: So this dress has magic powers?

ENG: No, it's electronic. So it has some ports over here, and they have micro controllers, and that's basically like a little computer. And then there's a microphone over here. So the microphone sense if there's down. And then the little computer over here will make these LED's light up because they're all connected with this conductive thread, so it has conductive threat instead of wires.


ENG: I feel like as a designer, I ultimately want to create products that people can relate to.

SAMBOLIN: Does somebody wear this?

ENG: I've actually worn this to a whole bunch of different fashion weeks.

SAMBOLIN: What a conversation starter.

ENG: I feel like my company, because it's small, I'm kind of at the threshold. If there's a new technology, I can grab that technology or manufacturing process and put it into my products. But if it's a large company like the Gap, they wouldn't be able to, because they wouldn't have enough of that new material. So I think all of my products are new innovations as they're just coming to market.

This is a thermo-chromatic skirt that I've created.


ENG: Thermo-chromatic. One of my favorite materials to work with is thermo-chromatic, which means it changes color with temperature. So this one, when you wear the scarf in cold temperatures, snowflakes appear.


ENG: The snowflakes grow larger as the temperature gets colder. When the temperature drops below 65 degrees, a small snowflake will appear, but at 32 degrees, it's colder, and the snowflake on the scarf will grow larger.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my gosh. How do you do that?

ENG: This is thermo-chromatic powder. You can basically mix the powder in with ink.

I tried to make clothing and accessories that have a story to tell. And this story could be something about a new technology, maybe it's creating laser cuff links. This is our laser cutter. You can use it to cut and to etch wood, acrylic, paper, you can etch glass with it. I used it to distress t-shirts. I thought why not make t-shirts that are distressed in specific places to create a lace pattern.

SAMBOLIN: It's beautiful, but it loose really delicate.

ENG: They're actually really durable. For example, this one I was trying to cut flower shapes, but the reality is when you wear it, it doesn't look like a flower at all. So I started doing research and I felt that cells are similar, so I started looking at flower cells, because I thought maybe those are some shapes that will have a bit more femininity to them. I used those as inspiration for creating the distressed t-shirt patterns.

It can take me two or three years to design something because I'm carefully gathering bits of stories together to create my design. I search for special materials and I really search for them. I will go all over the garment district to find them. I really want where the materials are from to be a part of the story. This is a basically a warehouse full of vintage jewelry and findings.

SAMBOLIN: It's 5,000 square feet. How do you know what you're looking for? ENG: You don't. I feel like it's a jungle sort of, in a way, of different jewelry stores. So I kind of like the whole treasure hunting aspect of it.

So these look like vintage earrings. I just really like them because the colors and patterns are really different. So this is thread that was used in French uniforms during the '20s. And I picked it out because it was shiny, but I noticed it's a bit cool to the touch, so I think it has metal in it. I'm curious to take it back to the studio and see if it's conductive.

Yes it is really conductive. There's no resistance. Oh, my goodness, this is so cool. I'm so excited. In the 1920s they had conductive threat. Isn't that crazy?

GUPTA: Next, teaching teens the art of high-tech fashion.


ENG: Today we're at MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. And I'm here to teach the Click-It MOMA class. Click-It MOMA is one of the in-the-making classes. There are about 22 high school students in the class, and 22 students come from all over New York City. It's really a chance for them to get hands on into making art, because actually a lot of the art programs have been cut from schools here.

I'm teaching the wearable technology course. So we're looking at different ways that technology can be made wearable. Today we're going to be starting work on the final garment. Today is the first day the students are working on the final project. So they're basically putting together all the elements they've been working in our sort of introductory classes to create garments of their own design. Each piece of the LED strip needs to be connected to the battery pack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to go through here. They're going to make everything hook on.

ENG: When I'm working with students, I usually like to start by showing them how the technology works. We're basically going to sew a loop like this strip like this. There's a bit of magic in how electronics works and this gets the kids excited how to integrate the technology into the pieces that they're creating.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Working on a dress, I want to add like to it and maybe like Diana can help me program those lights.

ENG: I have noticed when I show the students new technology or new technique to work with, sometimes a light bulb goes off and it's like, wow, I didn't know I could make that. I think they're disconnected from the technologies the use. They all have cellphones and stuff, but they don't necessarily what goes into making a cellphone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And it's going to come around, wrap around.

ENG: One of great things about teaches at MOMA is that we're able to draw inspiration from the gallery. We were looking at Monet's "Water Lilies" when we decided to create garment and we're exploring different shapes and textures. The students actually took video of different pieces in the MOMA gallery and we projected them onto dresses they made to create these video dresses.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're making inflatables for the skirt part of our dress.

ENG: We were also playing with inflatables. The students created their own inflatable shapes and used different artwork in the gallery, so they could see how different bodies were represented.

I think a lot of new things are possible with the technologies we have today. I think this is really an opportunity for the students to explore what they can make and create with the new technologies. I think the kids will really be able to see how this could apply to my medium in art and design.

I'm working with Spark Fun, which is kind of like a do it yourself electronics company to make the 21st century designers tool kit. It has the thermo-chromatic ink, fiber that heats so that you can create changing images. It has an inflator in it, inflatable material, so you can create air bladders. It's going to have our French vintage thread from 1930 that happens to be super-conductive.

I'm really interested in making people think differently about things. With the kit that I'm creating with Spark Fun or my class at MOMA, I feel like it's teaches people to look at materials that are already kind of existing and think will how it can change how we live our lives.

GUPTA: Diana Eng is reinterpreting what it means to be a fashion designer. And Dr. Miguel Nicolelis is giving thousands of physically challenged men, women, and children hope for a better future. Both innovators are redefining how we experience the world, and that's what earns them a spot on THE NEXT LIST.

I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thanks for watching. Hope to see you back here next week.