Steve Schiff has the soothing voice and gentle manner of someone who has spent a large part of his career dealing with children, and frequently, children in pain. As a pediatric neurosurgeon, he has lent his skills and bedside manner to treating diseases of the brain in children. As a researcher, he is joining forces with electrical engineer Srinivas Tadigadapa to develop technology to understand and treat diseases of the brain.
Schiff is director of the Penn State Center for Neural Engineering, a lab that takes up an entire floor of the Life Sciences wing of the Millennium Science Complex on Penn State’s University Park campus. A series of card-swipe controlled laboratories make up the 11,000-square-foot center, which includes facilities for the construction of custom electronics, live animal imaging and surgery, and advanced computerized microscopy.
In the Materials wing of the building, Tadigadapa’s group is developing microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) that allow miniaturization of devices that can sense and stimulate nerve cells, some of which the team hopes will one day be implanted into the human skull in order to explore the brain on a cell-by-cell basis.
The Millennium Science Complex was built with the concept of integrating the expertise of materials scientists, electrical and mechanical engineers, and nanotechnologists, who occupy the north wing of the building, with medical and biological researchers, who occupy the building’s west wing.
“This building reflects our interaction, because we are half materials science and half life sciences,” Schiff says. “We will literally build these technologies on one side and walk them up the stairs to our lab where we do experiments on neurons. We will use individual neurons that we will be recording from and stimulating to see how far we can push this technology. We are, to our knowledge, the only center at present that is in a position to manufacture these high-density arrays for sensing and stimulation in a nanofabrication facility and then literally transition them to an operating room.”