Groundbreaking Graphene Camera Records a Heart’s Electrical Signals

Scientists have been able to capture the real-time electrical activity of a beating heart using a sheet of graphene to record an image. The result is almost like a video camera, and the generated images show the electric fields that trigger a heartbeat. Graphene is a material that has a high ceiling of potential that […]

Groundbreaking Graphene Camera Records a Heart’s Electrical Signals

Scientists have been able to capture the real-time electrical activity of a beating heart using a sheet of graphene to record an image. The result is almost like a video camera, and the generated images show the electric fields that trigger a heartbeat.

Graphene is a material that has a high ceiling of potential that could be used to make a wide range of products and services. As explained by Verge Science, graphene has the capability to bring the world anything from bulletproof armor and space elevators to making the internet run faster and advancing medical science.

It is that last bit about advancements in medical science that this new research report from a collaboration between two teams of quantum physicists at the UC Berkeley and physical chemists at Stanford University.

The use of graphene — which is a material that is made of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a lattice — in this way shows its use as a wholly new type of sensor that will be useful for studying cells or tissues that generate electrical voltages. Previously, researchers were able to do this with electrodes or chemical dyes, but these had the limitation of only measuring the voltage at a single point.

A graphene sheet can measure voltage continuously and over all of the tissue it covers.

“Because we are imaging all cells simultaneously onto a camera, we don’t have to scan, and we don’t have just a point measurement. We can image the entire network of cells at the same time,” Halleh Balch, one of three first authors of the paper, says. Balch recently received her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley’s Department of Physics.

According to the published research report, the graphene sensor can work with existing standard microscopy techniques as well, expanding its usability.

To image a heart, the researchers placed a sheet of graphene above a waveguide and below a chamber that held a sample of tissue. A waveguide is a structure that, as it sounds, guides waves with minimal loss of energy by restricting the transmission of the energy into one direction.

Laser light was aimed into the waveguide through a prism, reflected off the graphene, and bounced inside the waveguide again before it exits and is recorded by a camera (specifically noted as a CCD camera). The internal reflections inside the waveguide amplify the response of the graphene to the electrical field of the sample and thus visualize the electrical current.

The sequence of images, separated by five milliseconds, then shows changes in the electrical field pattern on the surface of the heart during a single beat.

Feng Wang, a UC Berkley professor of physics and senior author of the paper says that this is perhaps the first example of using an optical readout of 2D material to measure biological electrical fields.

“People have used 2D materials to do some sensing with pure electrical readout before, but this is unique in that it works with microscopy so that you can do parallel detection,” he says.

“This study is just a preliminary one; we want to showcase to biologists that there is such a tool you can use, and you can do great imaging. It has fast time resolution and great electric field sensitivity,” Jason Horng, a UC Berkeley Ph.D. and the third first author of the research report. “Right now, it is just a prototype, but in the future, I think we can improve the device.”

The full research report from the two teams of scientists can be read journal.


Image credits: Photos and schematics by Halleh Balch, Allister McGuire and Jason Horng

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Watch a Woodpecker Methodically Demolish a Wildlife Camera

The Nizhne-Svirsky Nature Reserve in Russia has shared a video that shows a local black woodpecker methodically destroying a camera trap that was hidden in the trees. In a post on Facebook, the Nature Reserve writes that the black woodpecker “easily” discovered the camera, despite its camouflage and spent several days attacking the camera as […]

Watch a Woodpecker Methodically Demolish a Wildlife Camera

The Nizhne-Svirsky Nature Reserve in Russia has shared a video that shows a local black woodpecker methodically destroying a camera trap that was hidden in the trees.

In a post on Facebook, the Nature Reserve writes that the black woodpecker “easily” discovered the camera, despite its camouflage and spent several days attacking the camera as if it were a part of the tree.

Black woodpeckers are large woodpeckers that live in the forests of the northern Paleartic and is the sole representative of its genus in the region. It is closely related to the pileated woodpecker of North America and the lineated woodpecker of South America. Like other woodpeckers, the black woodpecker feeds by using its bill to hammer on dead trees in the hopes of pulling out ants or beetle grubs. It also uses this same skill to bore out holes in trees for the purposes of nesting. The species has a neck that has been specifically designed for this task and are quite strong, especially for its size.

The bird is sometimes considered a nuisance as they sometimes damage power lines, poles, and houses. In this case, one example of the species targeted the plastic housing of a wildlife camera trap.

In the video, the black woodpecker can be seen popping in and out of frame as its loud pecks can be heard through the camera’s microphone. According to the Nature Reserve, the “vandalism” — as it is cheekily referred– was attributed to the bird’s desire to remove any human interference with the personal life of the animals in the region.

Vandalism in the reserve! The black woodpecker decided that there should be no interference with the personal life of animals and birds on his site – and destroyed the camera trap. Zhelna easily discovered the camouflaged device, and for several days methodically picked out the hole she liked. Researchers who arrived to check the camera trap had to state with regret that it would not be possible to get new frames from this place for a long time.

In reality, the woodpecker may have chosen the location due to the softer nature of the plastic versus the surrounding tree and possibly mistook the camera trap for rotting bark, behind which a possible meal lay hidden.

The aftermath | Nizhne-Svirsky Nature Reserve

The Nizhne-Svirsky Nature Reserve says that due to the damage, it is likely that it will be some time before the camera can be replaced and a view of that particular region can be restored.

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