Miguel Angelo Laporta Nicolelis, M.D., Ph.D., is among Brazil’s best-known physicians and scientists, recognized for his pioneering work on "reading monkey thought." His research focuses on how the brain creates thought and senses its own presence, and he has worked with monkeys and robots to understand the connection between brains and machines.
Nicolelis is the founder of Duke’s Center for Neuroengineering. He and his colleagues implanted electrode arrays into a monkey's brain that were able to detect the monkey's “motor intent” and apply this to guide a robotic arm to reach and grasp control objects.
The implant decoded the signals of hundreds of neurons while the monkey played with a hand-held joystick to move a shape in a video game. These signals were sent to the robot arm, which then mimicked the monkey's movements and thus controlled the game. After a while, the monkey realized that simply thinking about moving a shape was sufficient. It began to let go of the joystick and control the game purely through thought.
Nicolelis’ work with primates could lead to new approaches for treating Parkinson's disease, paralysis and other health problems, and for using brain waves to control everything from transportation to manufacturing. Scientific American has named him one of the twenty most influential scientists in the world.