Imagine this: TSA agents with enhanced senses of smell, emergency responders that can hear sounds clearly from beneath rubble and dirt, and cab drivers always knowing the direction of true north. This might sound like an issue of popular comic book series The X-Men, but scientists at Duke University are experimenting with a brain implant device that could make these things possible in the real world — and without the need to be born a mutant.
As it stands, our five senses are very limited, although our brain capacity should be able to allow us to do more with them. The Duke scientists wanted to explore the possibility of using a brain implant in possibly turning up and enhancing those senses. The implants were used on mice, which allowed the mice to be taught to see infrared light, which is generally invisible to the naked eye.
The experiment began with teaching the mice to recognize an LED light: when it lit up, the mice learned to poke their noses into an appropriately-related hole. Infrared cameras were then attached to their heads and wired into their brains where sensory processing occurs naturally. Then, the animals were exposed to infrared light. The camera would stimulate the brain, becoming stronger as the mice got closer to the infrared light or looked in its direction. After that, the mice were put back into their original surroundings and the LED light was replaced with an infrared light. Although it took nearly a month of training, the mice learned to respond to the infrared light by poking their noses in the correct holes.
The mice also responded to additional stimulation, leading the scientists to believe that the brain can handle a variety of sensory input via the implant at any given time. This could lead to better prosthetics for artificial limbs in the future, allowing those wearing them to have better control over those parts of their bodies. There is also the potential for ordinary humans to be given super-human sensory powers, making something like The X-Men more reality than fiction.