Caltech Home > Home > News > Watson Lecture: Richard Andersen...
Search open search form

Watson Lecture: Richard Andersen Shares Neuroscience Advances That Help Paralyzed People

What if there was a way to help paralyzed patients regain sensation and control over assistive devices using their thoughts? On Wednesday, November 8, at 7:30 p.m. PT in Caltech's Beckman Auditorium, Richard Andersen, the James G. Boswell Professor of Neuroscience and T&C Chen Brain-Machine Interface Center Director and Leadership Chair, will explore how brain-machine interfaces can interpret a user's intent based on neural activity.

In a public talk called "Unlocking Movement: Helping Paralyzed People Use Thought to Control Computers and Robotic Limbs" that continues the 101st season of the Watson Lectures, Andersen will discuss how he, researchers in his lab, and collaborators have developed a new approach of recording intentions from the brain. This approach utilizes the initial thoughts for movement that have allowed paralyzed participants to control robotics and computers, communicate words through silent speech, and more.

"Working with humans with tetraplegia is enormously satisfying and a chance to see your science being directly translated to a clinical setting," says Andersen, who designed and tested a neural prosthesis system to record the electrical activity of nerve cells in the brains of paralyzed participants. The system uses computer algorithms to interpret the patients' intentions based on these neural signals, then converts them into electrical control signals to operate external devices. "When we say tetraplegic, it means patients can't move or feel any of their limbs, so they are severely handicapped as a result. The work is a real honor because the clinical trials are very exciting for them and us. They're the heroes in this field."

Starting at 6 p.m., several participants will join members of Andersen's lab outside Beckman Auditorium to discuss their experiences. Researchers will also share the scientific innovations underlying their work as well as some of the prosthetics and other devices they use.

Andersen earned a PhD from UC San Francisco and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Prior to coming to Caltech in 1993, he was a faculty member at both the Salk Institute and MIT. The focus of Andersen's research is exploring the neural mechanisms of sight, hearing, balance, touch, and action. He then uses the insights gained from these investigations to inform the development of neural prosthetics.

The Watson Lectures offer new opportunities each month to hear how Caltech's premier researchers are tackling society's most pressing challenges and inventing the technologies of the future. Join friends and neighbors outside Beckman Auditorium to enjoy food, drinks, and music together before each lecture. Interactive displays related to the evening's topic will give audience members additional context and information. The festivities start at 6 p.m. Guests are also encouraged to stay for post-talk coffee and tea as well as the chance to converse with attendees and researchers.

Learn more about the Earnest C. Watson Lecture Series and its history at

Watson Lectures are free and open to the public. Register online. A recording will be made available after the live event.

Written by Katie Neith

Caltech Media Relations