December 20, 2011
When Nick Johnston says he can read your mind, he really means it.
A student in the International Baccalaureate program at Semiahmoo Secondary, Nick is working on a system of computer-assisted telepathic communication that would allow people to communicate using only their brainwaves.
His project won a gold medal at the South Fraser Regional Science Fair and earned Nick a spot on Team Canada at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair last spring. Now the soft-spoken 16-year-old Grade 11 student has been invited to present his findings at the National Association of the Academies of Science/American Junior Academy of Science annual conference Feb. 15 to 19 in Vancouver.
"If a person has no ability for sensory output, this device would help them communicate – a person with a neurological illness could potentially speak," explains Nick.
Beyond the medical applications for his research, Nick sees his computer-assisted telepathic communication system having endless potential for the military as well as significant commercial value for anyone needing to communicate efficiently, accurately and wordlessly.
"I wanted to do something monumental," says Nick.
Nick's field of research is called neurotechnology. Already, he's spent countless hours reducing the more than 500,000 words that make up the English language into 40 distinct phonemes or basic sounds. Then with help from nine human subjects, he measured their brain activity as they thought of these basic sounds and used mathematical equations to create averages that were then programmed into his system.
When someone wears the device – essentially a plastic toolbox with a circuit board hooked up to a series of electrodes insulated by foam and recycled Gatorade caps – their brainwaves are translated into syllables and, ultimately, words.
"It's not perfect yet – it's about 70 per cent accurate," says Nick.
An aspiring engineer, Nick plans to apply to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) next year.
Last Updated: December 22, 2011