There’s not much in this life that the COVID-19 Pandemic hasn’t changed, and that includes the 20th anniversary of the IEEE’s Neural Engineering Conference (NER). NER began under the leadership of Professor Metin Akay as a way for members of the nascent field of neural engineering to gather, share ideas, share research, and yes, share a beer or two.
Now, twenty years later, the conference has grown into one of the preeminent gatherings for the field of neural engineering and was set to return to Italy. The original conference – you may have heard folk tales of the legendary event – was held on the island of Capri off the coast of Italy. Because of its sizeable growth, the conference no longer fits within the confines of the beautiful island and had been intended to be held in Sorrento – the mainland sister of Capri. Unfortunately, well, COVID (it’s always stupid COVID – just go away already.)
Arun and JoJo sat down with this year’s Conference Co-Chairs, Professor Thomas Stieglitz and Professor Silvestro Micera to find out what makes this particular conference so special (hint: you’ll be singing this Sister Sledge song for the rest of the day), how they dealt with moving this beast online, and how young folks in the field can get involved in their favorite conferences, societies, editorial boards, and more.
Arun & I generally focus on pretty interesting science, technology and or people on sKRAPS .But I’ve been feeling a little nostalgic and I’m really dying to get back to in person conferences. I know I sound like a geek, but I love conferences. I love them. I miss them. I need them. They are, for me, the most effective way to connect. I know I’m not alone in this room was kind enough this week to let me embrace this nostalgia and so we invited Professor Silvestro Micera and Professor Thomas Stieglitz on to the show. These fine gentlemen are the Co-chairs of NER IEEE is bi annual neural engineering conference. In full disclosure, I’m also on the Organising Committee, but I play a much smaller role. NER is one of my all time favourite meetings. And so when we were forced to commit to a virtual event for its 20th anniversary, am not gonna lie to you, I did get a little weepy. I think that in our conversation together, Silvestro and Thomas were able to articulate why NER and so many other meetings for that matter are so important. This is our family. We’ve grown up together, and we’ll grow old together. It’s my hope that NER is the last major conference that is required to be exclusively virtual, I need to hug my family. Until then listening and I hope this episode provides you with a small dose of your family. And thank you both for joining us today. I know you guys are very busy, not only with your day jobs, but with the imminent arrival of neural engineering, the 20th anniversary conference. And it’s being called this year 20 years of potential turning potential into action. So before we get started with that, maybe both of you could talk a little bit more about what’s happening in your glue jobs at your labs. What are you working on? What are you excited about there?
Arun Sridhar: 2:16
But before we go there, as usual, I just want to point to all the listeners the wonderful sounds of the birds in the background that’s not from from my recording site, or from Joe Joe’s, it’s basically from Sylvester Oh, who is sitting outside in the in what looks like is probably his garden where he has chirping birds and tweeting birds all around him at this point of time. So with that, Sylvester over to you.
Silvestro Micera: 2:42
Thanks a lot. I mean, first of all I have to apologise is quite weird, maybe location for an interview.Arun Sridhar: 2:51
Thanks a lot.
Silvestro Micera: 2:52
So I’m a professor of neural engineering between Scala Santana, in Italy and the Ecole Polytechnique Federal de Lausanne in Switzerland. And they work of course, on neural engineering and in particular on translational neural engineering. So what we are trying to do is to bring devices like the ones that Thomas is working on, and know how into clinical practice together and with clinicians. So we have been working on different applications ranging for prosthesis for amputees, stimulation for paralysed people and other things. And I’m one of the the two general chairs of the neural engineering conference, which is going to happen soon.Yes, so I can back that up.
Thomas Stieglitz: 3:39
My name is Thomas Stiglitz and I’m the second general chair of that neural engineering conference. I’m Professor for biomedical microtechnology at the University of Freiburg in Germany. And we are working on interfaces that means some very small, tiny and hopefully robust and long lasting implants to interface technology with the nerves. And that was what Sylvester was referring to. So applications look always very exciting ranging from things that service to a set spinal cord injured patients, make them walk again or grasp again, make the blind See also in the field of bio electronics medicine, to drive down high blood pressure by electrical stimulation. And while all those narratives and storylines are really very exciting, the daily work is much more tedious and laborious so so it’s really on the tiny little bits and pieces, that things do not fall apart. That they do not harm the body that they did not get eaten up by whatever is around in the body and that’s part of my work. As engineer to make them as long lasting as stable and robust and invisible as possible.
Arun Sridhar: 5:03
So for a physiologist and a pharmacologist like myself, which is what my initial training was, I’m not, I’m not an engineer, by any stretch of imagination. I think my introduction, the way I always describe both of you is that Thomas was actually doing cuff electrodes when everybody else was going into kind of interfacing electrodes and, and But still, he actually made tough electrodes really happen both on on the human side as well as that Ansel westoe. I think, for me, some of your work, etc, in the past, with respect to the intro fisica, electrodes, etc, is extremely seminal. So, therefore, for people who actually listened to us who are not neural engineers, who don’t know much about it, I think I think we’re actually speaking to two of the stalwarts in the area of of neural interfacing with engineering at this point of time. Thanks so much for joining us anyway. Thanks. So do you want to start off by telling us a bit about the impending conference, as you suggested, which is the ner the Newland interfacing, or? Yeah, the MDR 2021?
Thomas Stieglitz: 6:19
Yeah, I can start so so probably historical view, if you would have told somebody about neural engineering 20 years ago was that I know what that is, that is the part of the Society for neuroscience meeting where the person’s meet, to twist wires to something together that we can record for. And indeed, the first neural engineering conference 20 years ago was was kind of a family meeting with not so many persons around. And there were a lot of initiatives because this society was a kind of rearranging so biomedical engineering got broader and broader. And due to some, whatever funding programmes terminology changed, and neural engineering one was one of those new buzzwords to bring engineers physiologies. neurologists and probably others together to take a joint look and multicoloured picture, how to bring technology and the needs from neuroscience and and neurology neurosurgery together. And then persons from rehab engineering joined and came out computational neuroscience is also something that is very beneficial and could be inherited. And so it gets more and more colourful over the years.
Silvestro Micera: 7:48
That’s true and something Sorry, no, I would just think to add for something very interesting that when it started the very first conference was an intuition by Metin Akay and other people that have been a all the pioneers in the field. And he was done in Capri. No Capri Island is a very super cool Island. But they were able to do it because they as Thomas said was a very small community you know a family going on a vacation kind of together in Capri. Now when we tried to do it, organise it after 20 years. Metin came back o us and said Should we do it n Capri again? And you know, here is no way you can do it ith 500 people in Capri. YOu now? You are going to occupy all the island, which is notArun Sridhar: 8:33
Sophia Loren is not going to be happy there, only because she lives on the Amalfi Coast.
Silvestro Micera: 8:41
But the idea is what we realised that the family became pretty large. And in 20 years is not possible anymore. To be a small family. We are a more than family, you know, with all relatives, siblings and people going around with a lot of connections.
Well, and with family comes a little bit of infighting too. I mean, it can’t You can’t have a family with a without a few discordant moments. And so have both of you gone to all 10 of the well, what will be the 10th ner conference?
Silvestro Micera: 9:16
No, actually, I missed the first two. I don’t remember. I don’t remember why maybe. I guess it was two younger and my supervisor told me, you know, Sylvester you don’t go to Capri. I go to Capri. Kind of I’m kidding. I don’t remember why. No, I’m kidding. I don’t remember why. But
Arun Sridhar: 9:33
then brings together both kind of the neural engineering as it pertains to both central nervous system as well as the peripheral nervous system. Correct. And everything that comes with it.
Silvestro Micera: 9:47
Yeah. And oh, exactly. And you know, I’m very happy. What we did with Thomas, I guess this year you are going to see in few in few weeks. It will be withdrawal as you know, but I think we got a lot to win. derivation participation, also from non engineering community. Also, thanks to Jojo we organised a few symposia with Asia. In this video, something somebody from ifetch for 34, functional ticker stimulation, also a lot of neuroscientist material scientists. So again, the family is becoming more and more diversified. And that’s something honestly I’m very much proud of, I guess it will be really funny this year, more than usual, even more, because of this.
And, and all of the in laws now are coming from different factions and making the family but yeah.
Thomas Stieglitz: 10:43
And then as you grow as a family, it’s always that you get older and older and as a benefit from that you get more younger persons, your children and grandchildren from, let’s say, from other disciplines, I have the same discipline. And this is really beautiful that that this is by its size, its it has grown, but it’s still in a size where we’re PhD students can meet senior scientists, and they are heroes, from all the papers in the field on a single conference. And I think this has been one of the key issues of all neural engineering conferences that you give room for social interaction for scientific interaction, and that you have that spirit that everybody can ask any question to everybody. And I think this is probably a difference to other conferences that grow larger and larger why you see persons from far that you’re not able to approach them and and we I think we can we try our best even in the virtual conference to get that close interaction with the format’s that we have, and that we strengthen this year, that persons can come together can can listen to the discussions of the old guys and girls that can also interact them. By chat by by personal interactions with with those experts.
The first time I met you, Thomas was at an ER in Shanghai. And and it was great. It was exactly that we actually went had lunch, we had a small group of people and and you were most welcoming and accommodating, which I’m grateful for. Because You scared the hell out of me. I was so scared of you. I’m not an engineer. But you have this sort of like this legend around you. I’m like, Oh my gosh, oh,my gosh,
Thomas Stieglitz: 12:34
oh, I should get rid of that. Right.Silvestro Micera: 12:37
You know, JoJo I could tell you, I’ve been working with this guy for 20 years, and I’m still scared.
Thomas Stieglitz: 12:43
Oh. Come on.
Silvestro Micera: 12:48
No, but really, I agree. I agree. I mean, it’s the kind of network that keeps in over time over the years. Now what is really cool, even if you meet people only during the conference, is kind of the old friend you are meeting from time to time. And you talk and you discuss there are really people that more or less I’m able to meet only during the conference, and it’s really a good way to to stay with the family again, you know, for for Thanksgiving, you go and meet the old part of the family, you see only once a year more or less the same stuff.
Arun Sridhar: 13:24
No, I think and I think what Tom has actually really said there is extremely important because one of our first guests on the podcast, which who we might really know from the area, Warren grill, kind of said that the biggest formative experience of his carrier was really the time that they got to spend when the whole neural interfaces conference used to be run at the National Institute of Health campus in in Maryland. And where it were during lunch, they had enough time. But then as the conference kind of grew bigger, etc, that it actually has transformed or morphed into something where the social interactions has actually become very minimal. But it looks like you folks are keeping that social interaction piece very much intact in your conference, etc. But can I just ask both of you just to say a bit more about you’ve been through many conferences in semesters case, are both of your cases bearing the first one? I think as a community of neural engineers, just for the people who are who are non initiated in this area, can you tell us a bit more about what has been the most important outcome of of the conference in the area or the influence that this conference has had on in research in the whole neural engineering area? As change?
Thomas Stieglitz: 14:46
Silvestro Micera: 14:47
I start Haha, I know. I mean, it is complicated. I would say that there are at least a couple of things which come into my mind. One is definitely Oh The activities on if she duties and prestige is, of course, I have a personal bias and that we have a personal bias on that. But clearly, that’s something which really started really started. Of course, I mean, if you think about the Dubrovnik conference in the 60s, everything started there. But let’s say that was a seed that grew also, over time, thanks to this confidence. This may be one example. And the other one may be could be really the collaboration, the increased number of collaborations with clinical people, and in particular for stroke, and spinal cord injury. So that’s why I’m also very happy about this symposia that I mentioned before. Because clearly, you know, over time, it really became it started. It started, like a conference only of engineers. And then growing up, became really a conference where you can find also other people, because in my case of European projects, for example, bringing or in Thomas’s well, so you bring the clinician involved in the project. But clearly we say, these ability of creating connection with clinicians in particular for stroke and spinal cord injury, and at least in my case for the amputees.
Thomas Stieglitz: 16:21
Yeah, I would would like to add something I completely agree. And that was really one of the iconic moments when when those conditions were there. And it was was, yeah, join society or join feeling they’re not not clinicians are educating engineers, or engineers, or educating clinicians. And I think this is this is really one of the the advantages that people talk to each other and not about each other. They’re the second thing and that started probably 20 years ago, was lying that seat that implants and technologies are not only part of the memes, so the micro electronic mechanical systems conference, or of whatever, the isscc. So the solid state circuits conference, from the electronics part that that there is something that material scientists and engineers could bring into that community and that it needs a common language to bring those technological gadgets into humans. I mean, one could say everything started with Ken vise, first Michigan probe that was done not at Michigan valance 69, or the first Utah array, but it was really that spirit, that you can go beyond Michigan props and Utah race. And that you can do something that goes also from the neuroscience into clinical application. And that was always the spirit there. You You are allowed to go towards fundamental neuroscience there you have your fundamental science, you have your clinical science, but it’s not an either or it’s very inclusive there and this is the driving spirit of the conference series.
Silvestro Micera: 18:21
And if sorry, if I may, thinking talking and listening to Thomas is remind me also the people who are going to be the keynote speaker this year, right? And if you look at them, there are people working on microtechnology, wearable sensors, neuropsychology, neuroscience, translational neural engineering. So you really see it up in just discussion among the Organising Committee, people, you see that all these diversity also an in the community and in the number of people, the different people will be the keynote speakers.
Arun Sridhar: 19:01
Yeah, absolutely. And I think for me, in addition to all the things that you’ve mentioned, interested back to the work that has happened on the neuroprosthetic side, between the two of you, I think other important kind of contributions that has come from the area is kind of the the company that was that came out of EPFL which is one of your organisations anyway, Sylvester. Oh, that you work for? Stephanie’s company, Stephanie laughers company as well as kind of hybrid guy.
Silvestro Micera: 19:29
I’ve also found that 1% ,1 billion Part
Arun Sridhar: 19:39
No, no, it’s, it’s, it’s extremely important, right? Because I think it’s, it’s, it’s so impactful that that we can actually talk about such technologies, especially when you talk about translational neuro engineering, neural engineering, I think it’s so important to say that technologies that actually reside In your laboratories, between yourself and a lot of your peers in the area over the last 10 or 20 years from going back to the first anniversary, or the first meeting of the NER. I think it has transformed life of so many patients who are in absolute need. And it continues to do so with some of the most amazing technologies, technological innovations that are coming from in terms of materials in terms of flexible electronics and stuff that you folks are doing in terms of interfacing electrodes to additional kind of electronics that will go and team up with interfaces, etc, to make a final product. So therefore, I mean, yeah, but those are important things that I think we want to bring out as part of the conversation here as the contribution from the investigators who are part of the whole NER community.
Silvestro Micera: 20:53
I mean, you’re right, if you think the number of companies which we have been co created, and many other people, a huge number of companies, you know, I think Jojo can give us an extensive list of companies created in the field, she knows everything she know, everybody right now, almost. No, almost. But I mean, really, this I agree with you, it’s really a very good sign that we are going in the right direction, if you want to be in to make an impact, you have to also sooner or later have product going to market into clinical application. And yes, so definitely, it’s something you can see in the evolution of these 20 years. I do agree.
Thomas Stieglitz: 21:37
Yeah, nothing to add there. Yeah, it’s very important so and it’s nice to see that those companies grow and that they survive. And that there is a clear differentiation when I was was walking around over the first trade fairs on those conferences in the first years, not only ner but others you have the usual suspects that that settled wires for mice and rats. And if they are really big shots, they say sell sold wires for monkeys, right and this is changing so it’s more and more of the human application that is at least at the horizon. And and that more and more companies go ahead towards human applications. And I think that’s the important part. Bio electronics medicine is also part which is which is inherited. So they they are doing their own conferences, you know, like like child rain becoming independent you have to do something on your own and then you come back to the family some years later. Probably we can hope that at some restaurant I can see that when we’re getting really old that things are kind of reunifying and I think that is also important to keep in mind not only to split up in all sub disciplines but but find the common issues the common interests and join together really to have the strength to change something
well in in Thomas in your definition of what it was like in the beginning of the the conference and divining neural engineering and what was involved you’re essentially describing what the kids have taken off as their own and said Oh, look what we did, you’re like yeah, that’s cute. We already did that. It’s It’s It’s um, it’s still ice cream, but it’s just a slightly different flavour the Northeast good but and I think also in addition to to GTX which is now onward and Thomas your company that coretec in the end you have few others I think just just
Thomas Stieglitz: 23:49
so so only two!
this one, only to hear you’re that much of a glutton for punishment which actually leads me to my next question was how did did you guys volunteer or did you get roped into this into into chairing that the conference
Thomas Stieglitz: 24:03
you know, it’s it’s a kind of you always think oh, wouldn’t that be nice that my name would be on the title page something like that. So it’s a kind of volunteering and then your name is flying around and and Bennett it just happened. So it’s a kind of Of course we all know we were old enough to know that this is a lot of work to chair such a company but but on the other hand, it’s it’s a lot of honour and it’s a real pleasure to have a team with and service to as co chair and that team is wonderful. All the programme chairs and I don’t list now all the other honourable names for persons who spend a lot of leisure time to make conference great. You know you’re working on sponsoring Joe Joe. We have others working on the mini symposia and and looking for promising young Scientists and whatever. So there’s an awesome team in the background. And it’s really fun. We’re all on the same page. And sometimes it’s really funny coming in such such a zoom call, then having a new topic on the list, and we’re more or less done in some minutes, then with a general outline, and then then it’s the work to fiddle things together. That takes a bit longer. But we never had disputes in in the programme committee on the general line or the direction, or, or general statements how such a conference should feel. And I think that’s, that’s awesome.
Arun Sridhar: 25:39
so having said that, I think the conference this year is extremely virtual. Right? So how are you going? He
Silvestro Micera: 25:44
Arun Sridhar: 25:48
Exactly. So how are you going
Silvestro Micera: 25:52
to discuss discussions and having the price I mean, that’s the only thing we can really do. And the other thing, honestly, what we did also, for example, is to have zoom meetings, independent sessions, kind of more flexible, so we added a bit more flexibility. Because in this way, people can use the like the flexibility in a different way and kind of in their own more family environment if you want. But sorry for this mould issue. But I wanted to comment also about the programme called the Organising Committee. You know, it was a bit complicated, at the very beginning of think about, we were supposed to go to Sorrento, for for a wonderful week, there in May, and then it became suddenly virtual in the middle of the pandemic. So we had to reschedule everything, rethink everything, even you know, think about what what Jojo is doing about finding sponsors, I mean, every 12 sponsor is not the same as looking at the booth, or this kind of thing. So you have to re reinvent everything, we’re not the only one all the conference are doing. But what I really appreciated was that everybody in this specific role, we try to find a new way to add to make the conference staying as a family and being also a great success. So with a lot of effort, you know, think we came with a Diversity Award, for example. All these kinds of things came out because there is a great group of people who are free of thinking. Again, like in a family sometimes we laugh at times when there is the there are discussions, but it’s really the atmosphere we generate new ideas and involvement so I’m very happy about that.
So one of one of the things I need to stop and just make sure there’s transparency I am I am a small part of the Organising Committee on this but I think you too misunderstand my role. I’m technically publicity. Not sponsorship. So put that out there. But I am working on the sponsor it regardless, what I think needs to stop happening is I need to stop expecting that then you’re gonna get me to pitch to yet my NFL hometown, very likely, which means we’re going to be online. So I I wouldn’t This is one of my favourite conferences, so I won’t give it up. But one of the things I mean, Thomas, your Gordon’s conference was really the first, you know, big victim of COVID. I think you guys were last April.
Thomas Stieglitz: 28:53
Yeah, we had it became all the sponsorship assembled. All the speakers greets we had the conference fully booked, and then we shut it down. I think two days before the official shutdown.
So one year in now, where we’re going to be doing any RS virtual platform as everybody else has been doing for the last year. What do you think once things start to open up again is is this going to fundamentally change the way conferences are organised and attended or are we going to go back to our old way of doing things?
Thomas Stieglitz: 29:30
I think we will go back to some in person conferences. But I could imagine that that we have more hybrid aspects so that people could dial in, could listen to plenary talks from home something like this that there will be a small registration fee for coming in virtually which which would offer many persons who are not, don’t can afford that travelling and can’t afford all those very expensive hotels and stuff like this participation and probably that brings up a bit more levelling out different regions, the economic north of the economic south, in those conferences, that’s still we were not able to, to fully consider that so far, we thought it could be an option. But time was too short, really to do proactive advertisement, let’s say in the economic south, to acquire those persons from other regions of the world, who normally are not able to travel might it be for for some visa restrictions for political reasons, or for for poverty reasons. I’m still not sure if all countries will open the internets for something like this. But that would be my wish for the future that we can have for those who like to attend, rally that that family feeling and the others are the uncle or the arms, were not able to come to Thanksgiving, and we just dial them in via zoom or, or any other stuff.
Silvestro Micera: 31:15
I do agree. I mean, clearly, it’s going to be physical again, because we are as human human beings, we need it. But at the same time, you know, I’ve been travelling a lot, I’ve been travelling visually actually making meetings a lot around the ward in all the possible countries giving my talk. And it was fascinating, you know, the number of people joining in developing countries, I mean, discussing new students a lot of questions, there’s something we should keep, you know, giving us Thomas was saying giving these people the opportunity, of course, to join, you can have travel grants and these kind of things. But for our many people, I mean, not many, but you can have them listening to the keynote speaker speakers have a big conference in a very in a reasonably cheap way. And that’s really something we should keep in aware another in the future. Because I mean, at the end the technology now if they’re writing react to, to run and create it, or I mean, facilitate it, improve it. And now we can use it, at least for this. I’m sure it will be in Italy, we say the landed, you know, this kind of hybrid solution.
Arun Sridhar: 32:24
Yeah. Especially in terms of just improving access to people across the world, because I think I always found that, especially if you’re not from if you’re a US student, travelling to Europe on a US grant is much more difficult. And then if you’re from the rest of the world, if you’re not from us, or UK or Europe, travelling to one of these destinations for a conference is even more incredibly difficult. Because you have to sort out visa, you have to start at a lot of other things. So therefore, the hybrid approach that you kind of suggest there is possibly going to be the way forward just so that we can engage and we can we can still maintain access in terms of scientific information dissemination to all the interested people out there. And also, more importantly, as teachers and and scientists in the area, we want to catalyse the activation a bit more. And I think that would be a great way to do it. So for all the given that you both are extremely experienced in the area, either of design or out of out of out of sheer hard work. Do you for all the younger folks starting out in the area? Do you want to kind of how do they they bring themselves to actually help the organising committee or get involved in actually being able to do that? Because you folks probably followed a certain type of template that you might probably informed some of your younger trainees, etc. But what exactly should they be building in their repertoire that they can ultimately bring to bear? like both of you to be able to organise conferences like this in the future?
Silvestro Micera: 34:10
Tell me if you want to start
Thomas Stieglitz: 34:14
if I would have a template, I would sell it for a lot of money. So so there was I think the first thing that is really important. Be curious, be brave, just be there. If you have something to share, as research results hand in an abstract hang and write something down. convince your boss that you should travel by yourself and that you should create your network and networking works. By being there. I think that’s the most important thing. And if you if you’re already there, you did half the work. You know, all the older guys know each other’s and they tap on their shoulders, they hug each other, they drink a beer and probably they get bored and so every A buddy of us is really happy. If we get asked some questions, you know, or if you if you’re just sent by while we are chatting and chat with us. So we everybody is a human so and everybody wants to socialise. So I think that’s, that’s the most important thing, just to get in contact. And don’t be shy to ask questions and there’s no stupid question around, ask whatever comes to your mind. And then you will see after the third or fourth conferences, that it’s not about being an expert, but it’s about being there meeting friends and exchanging ideas. And from that point on you, for some reason or the other, you might slide in into some networks and connections and then you’re the natural born minisymposium organiser or you get an idea of what you want to show and what do you want to organise and then you’re
I can’t believe that I was afraid of you. It really isn’t accurate.. That’s a perfect demonstration of, I was intimidated by you and you couldn’t be more welcoming and gracious with your time and we’ve we’ve gone on and had several beers together. And so I can, I can personally attest to how genuine you are and what you just said,
Silvestro Micera: 36:24
JoJo. Sorry, I just realised that you never wanted to have beer with me. So now. I must be…
Silvestro Micera: 36:31
it’s really bad. No, it’s okay. No, no, no, I got it. I got the message. I got it. No, No, I’m kidding. I’m kidding. I’m kidding. Of course.
I am waiting for limoncello. That’s why,
Silvestro Micera: 36:43
Ah, that’s a very good idea. That’s actually I do love by the way. I can. I can also do it. I can you can try. Oh, we can make a competition that you try. You taste mine. And I taste yours. What about that?
I have a full bar right here. But no limoncello. I shall I’ll work on that for you this weekend. Very good.
Silvestro Micera: 37:02
No, but I mean, I do agree with Thomas. You know, I, at least what I what I did when I was young was to try. Contact people mean, make questions. I mean, I still remember the first time I met Jose principie. I mean, for me was really kind of I you know, I mean, it is a wonderful guy. And we spent, as you said, you know, one hour chatting. It was a summer school actually organised by Ferdowsi rooty. So I really enjoyed that. And, you know, the moment that I sent an email, I was really I mean metric more than 20 years ago, to Philip Zajac, you’re in Stanford, the musculoskelet and modelling guy. And you know, he replied in such a kind way, send me sending all the semi do that, I mean, and maybe we are going to miss one email. We try not to, but it could happen. Do it again. And during the conference, try to create your own network, without people like us, or maybe with other youngsters. You know, there are still people that I met 20 years ago, and we’re still friends, we have projects together in Thomas is a perfect example. Now we are kind of middle aged. But when we started working together, we were in the kindergarten, more or less, we were 2025 something. So I mean, you create your own network. And then with the network, you can grow up, you can have projects together. In Europe, we have, I guess, for showing us a lot of collaborative projects. So try to create your own network with friendship, drinking beer, so maybe Thomas does not remember. But the idea of the TIME electrode came during a dinner between the two of us, Xavier Navarro and Ken Yoshida. And can you see that we had a lot of fun, a lot of drinking and eating. And you guys wrote the idea of the of the TIME electrode on a napkin. This is something which really happens. And I can tell you other stories, but it will be too long. But the message is, when you have fun with other scientists, you can create network and they have new ideas. So I agree, don’t be shy. Try and we are humans. We don’t bite!
Arun Sridhar: 39:15
yes. So Silvestro. Oh, I think you know, the reason why we are called SKRAPS, right? It’s exactly for that reason, because it’s basically sparks of brilliance spelled backwards. And you write ideas on scraps of paper.
Or a napkin!
Arun Sridhar: 39:32
Yeah. And if a non English speaking person wrote scraps, they would actually write the way they would not know whether to use a C or a K. So therefore we just thought we’ll just have a typo in our name, but it also seemed like spark spelled backwards. So that is exactly the type of things that we want to capture anyway. So that’s fantastic that you brought that you gave that example, which, by the way, is one of the most influential neural interface designs of all The last kind of century given that it was discovered in the last century Silvestro, in terms of what you did in terms, so we’ll just say about us, me too. Me too. Me too. I’m not even that old as new people.
A little bit. So one question we do get quite a bit is an end? It’s, it sounds a little trite, but it’s, it’s actually a genuine question, which is, being where we are now, in our advanced old ages, according to a rune here. What What advice would you give your earlier professional self?
Silvestro Micera: 40:47
I would say go for something new. So I mean, there are many new things that what I try to say is clearly, maybe I’m wrong. But my feeling is we are kind of at the height of the use of something which was invented in the last century, right? So I mean, the technology, the idea we are now exploiting was created 10 or 15, or 20 years ago. So clearly, for example, new technologies, I mean, working more than optimally optogenetics for for humans in the future, or ultrasound, interference, these kinds of things could really be a new interface, a new way to create neuromodulation. A clearly, you know, I don’t you also know that I’m crazy about electronic medicine, I think this is going to be a huge revolution. Because if you start thinking about diabetes, you know, we have now a project on a heart transplantation. And, you know, I mean, I shouldn’t we are getting results, which are in animals, of course, it’s very preliminary. But you know, they are incredible. I mean, in principle, we could find something that could change really the life of these people. So, try to come up with new applications. I don’t want to say that we did everything, we don’t pity that there is plenty of things you can do in the next 20 years. I mean, we are not Luke Skywalker, clearly. But new application, you know, think about infertility, obesity, osteoporosis, cancer, what you can do with my military medicine is mind blowing in some way. Right? So I would say new technology for neuromodulation and new applications.
Arun Sridhar: 42:33
Yeah, I’m actually living example of what can be done with electronic medicine in terms of my research.
Thomas Stieglitz: 42:40
Yeah, I’m sorry to add something. I completely agree. Probably a good advice. This is meant a little bit ironic. Remember that there has been good literature before the year 2000. So always good. To go backwards to the original papers are not the review that cites a review that cites a review. This is probably something that really helps get that pi pioneering spirit to find the first paper that was really the original work to that. So in my PhD thesis, I’m not that old, but I cited one from 1899. So and I mean, that that combination of of having fundamental knowledge about the the basics and and spirit that goes far beyond the crazy science fiction literature, that is probably that what what drives the future?
Arun Sridhar: 43:45
And can I say one other additional thing? Can I say one additional thing for that? Tom is I mean, especially, as I said, My background is in physiology, right. So for all the things that currently people are looking at in the bio electronic medicines, including some of the concepts that have been pioneered in the late 90s, early 2000s, that are currently first shown as poster child’s, a lot of those examples, dates back to the late 70s. And then some of the older literature basically dates back to the 40s in the 50s. So I think my request and maybe this is something that the whole ner community can possibly curate is to actually have a repository of the links to the original articles. I know that getting PDFs etc, might be infringing copyrights. But basically, having a repository of some of these seminal papers on the the neural engineering website that would ultimately lead for a given topic would be a fantastic way to actually have the younger scientists kind of accesses information because I think, but it’s it’s it’s something that is not readily available, and most people quite I do agree.
Silvestro Micera: 44:56
I don’t if I may, I was mentioning the Dubronik. of the conference. And you know, I guess not, not many people know that. But when I was in Aalborg in Denmark for my PhD, there was digium Popovich, one of my maestro’s. And one day he just came to me and told e I can hear you think you are smarter than me. And then he s owed me the proceedings of the 62. Dubrovnik conference whe it was the drawing of what I wa doing. So clearly, one of the t ings we should do, of cou se, the technology was not th re yet, but the concept, it wa right. was already there are so many things, the idea behind o maybe something we should real y do as a community is to bu ld that this retrofit is a v ry good idea, you know, to c me with something, which is, I m an, for young people, even s mething 2005 it’s quite old radi . But I would say, taking his the history of neuroprosthet cs from the very beginning, or even coming from physiology as you were saying, I thin that’s actually we should may e think about for the 2023. con
is it still considered a paper if it was written on a stone tablet?Silvestro Micera: 46:17
I have to ask my supervisor. He will probably kill me. No, I’m kidding. I’m kidding. It’s a joke. It’s a stupid joke. No,
Arun Sridhar: 46:29
but as long as it’s, it’s, it’s it’s an English or in a language that at least somebody can translate it and
Even if its Hieroglypics, we could try it’s not hieroglyphic
I think if if you guys want to just give us a quick pitch on on ner. And when it is in the the registration information, so we get that out there.
Silvestro Micera: 46:57
Yes, it will be virtual may for May 6 for a few weeks, you can go on the on the conference webpage, which is neuro.nbc.com, I guess. And you can get all the information about the registration. Remember, the earlybird is going to end on March 22. We are going to we we had 500 papers submitted we are going to have 40 parallel sessions. A lot of cool stuff, diversity, as I said, So remember, it is a great opportunity to create or to enter
Thomas Stieglitz: 47:35
in a family, right. And we are also happy if you register after March 22. Because then you have to pay more money and we get more money to make the conference even better. If this is too expensive for your supervisor, you can convince him or her to pay you the IEEE MBs annual fee, and then it gets cheaper and even smarter.
Silvestro Micera: 48:04
Yeah, that’s a very good segue because what we did intentionally is to facilitate people to get the membership and take a reduction in the fee. So that may be something people want to consider.
Even I’m a member and I’m not an engineer, but I always find and actually you’re on the you’re on the editorial board of the MB s pulse. Is that right? So that’s true.
Silvestro Micera: 48:27
I was I mean, I’m not sure I’m still but yes, I was one actually it changed the name with me and Michael Neumann many years ago. And this was another very cool. And I have to thank people like Metin Akay, and Paolo bonato, who invited me to join embc the family when I was coming back from from MIT. And they really enjoyed that. So I mean, again, my suggestion is join the conference, but join us for the society, there are many things that volunteers can do to make the society working better, and you can learn more things you can meet cool people for do that. I enjoyed that.
Thank you both. And we really appreciate your time. And we look forward to to checking out ner in May. And we’ll put all the registration information in the show notes so that people can can can get involved.
Silvestro Micera: 49:25
Thanks a lot. It was super, super cool. And thanks for the funny question. The interesting question the time together. And of course again, when we meet both of you live on channel for everybody.
Thomas Stieglitz: 49:37
It was a pleasure. And thanks a lot.Unknown: 49:42
Thank you. Bye Bye, guys.
Arun Sridhar: 49:50
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