Richard Taylor Highlights

Physicist Richard Taylor’s mission, as he puts it, is “developing electronics for interfacing with the human body.” One major focus of his work is creating bio-inspired implants that have the potential to restore sight for those with vision loss. Currently, technology to partially restore vision exists and is in use – however, the resulting visual experience is a mass of black, white and grey pixels. One reason that current electronics are so ineffective is that the retinal neurons that enable sight recognize the electronics as a foreign body. Glial cells, the “life support system of neurons,” respond to the detected foreign body by creating scar tissue that pushes the neurons away from the implant, thereby reducing its effectiveness. Taylor and his colleagues’ solution is to create electronics that resemble the geometry of the neurons – fooling neurons into interacting with the implant as if it were itself made up of neurons.
Taylor’s work is part of the Brain Initiative. It involves international collaborators in New Zealand and Sweden, as well as the project’s core of University of Oregon professors from electrical, optical, chemical, and neuroscience fields, including chemist Darren Johnson, and physicist Miriam Deutsch. Part of Taylor’s inspiration comes from the unpredictability that exists in the meeting of disciplines, and the potential for big discoveries to “unfold out of the blue.” Taylor found similar possibilities earlier in his career, when investigating the intersection of science and art gave rise to his most recognized work – a scientific analysis and authentication of paintings by Jackson Pollock.
Taylor is also motivated by the practical application of his work, and the prospect of not only advancing science, but also making a broad impact on people’s lives. He comments, “one day someone – it may not be me […] will be able to meet a surgeon, give them a chip, the surgeon puts it in the person’s eye, and says ‘Now you’re going to be able to see again.’ And that’s quite amazing.” He predicts that the knowledge gained during this project may eventually be applicable to other brain implants, prosthetics that allow sensory feedback, and even bio-inspired robots.