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Celebrating 100 years of EEG tech — the test that unlocks your brain power

Julia Park

Electroencephalography (EEG) is a method used to record an electrogram, or a recording of electrical activity, within the brain. It’s how
Muse measures your brain activity to help you master your mind.

Invented 100 years ago, the test has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a modified electrocardiogram machine attached to exposed brain regions. Yeah, you read that right. Today, the EEG can be done from the comfort of home, instantly translating your brain activity into helpful stats that help you improve your brain health and reach your fullest potential. 

What is an EEG?

An EEG measures your brainwaves – the electrical currents traveling between neurons, the cells in your brain. According to the Mayo Clinic, an EEG reads your brain activity using electrodes touching the surface of your head, displaying them as ‘waves’ on a graph.

How does an EEG measure brain activity?

An EEG attaches electrodes to different parts of your head. Because the electrodes are conductive, meaning they can conduct electricity, they can receive and record different electrical activity of your brain through the skin on your head. Traditionally, EEGs are conducted with electrodes, covered in a conductive gel, placed all around your scalp. Muse headbands use dry electrode technology to make it convenient and comfortable to measure your brain activity from home, without the fuss or mess.

What are brainwaves?

Brainwaves are the measurement of electrical activity in your brain over a period of time. At any given moment, some fraction of the billions of neurons in your brain are firing – to breathe, digest food, remember what you had for breakfast, or even read this article. To do so, your neurons exchange information in the different lobes of your brain, and at different rates, to get things done. 

During an EEG, different types of activities appear in different ‘frequencies,’ or the rate at which neurons are firing. These patterns tend to fall into one of five categories based on the frequency of the measured activity: gamma, beta, alpha, theta, and delta. 

EEGs can show multiple waves, depending on what your brain is up to, meaning your graph will look different when you’re stimulated, settling down, or sleeping.

A brief history of the EEG

For as long as humans have lived, we’ve endeavored to understand ourselves: who we are, why we’re here, and what makes us tick. The key to so many of those secrets is between our ears – and the EEG was one of the first devices to help us quantify and measure what’s going on up there. Today, it’s an essential device in any neuroscience lab, and thanks to technology like Muse, its analytical power can be used to help you master your mind like never before. But the story had to start somewhere, and the EEG’s began unexpectedly. 

In 1875, an English scientist by the name of Richard Caton, discovered the electrochemical properties of the brain by using a galvanometer (a device used to measure electrical currents) from the surfaces of monkey and rabbit brains. In 1924 a German psychiatrist by the name of Hans Berger, took Caton’s research one step further on his mission to prove the existence of telepathic communication. While experiencing a near-death experience falling from his horse, Berger’s sister felt a simultaneous uneasiness about her brother. Berger, convinced this was evidence of long-range telepathy, set out to uncover how the brain radiates information.

After years of experimentation, stimulating exposed brain matter in patients with skull defects and deformities, Berger observed the first-ever recording of brain activity during a neurosurgery procedure. His machine was a highly modified version of an EKG, a device that measures the electrical signals in your heart. In 1929, Berger developed a way to measure brain activity from the scalp as a way to noninvasively measure brainwaves. He published a paper, “Über das Elektrenkephalogramm des Menschen,” in which he coined the terms Alpha and Beta waves as you might remember from above.

The first EEG lab and early learnings

Although Berger’s findings were met with early skepticism, it didn’t take too long for the medical community to realize the value of his breakthrough. In 1937, Alfred Loomis, the patron of Loomis Laboratory in Tuxedo Park, New York, used an EEG to study and discover the five different phases of sleep, a foundational piece of research that uncovered the early secrets of what the Buddha called “the small death.”

In 1951, Dr. Eugene Aserinsky used an EEG to discover REM sleep – one of the two types of sleep after observing his eight-year-old son’s sleep patterns overnight. This seminal discovery, published in 1953, laid the foundation for modern sleep science, including the impacts of deep sleep and your health. In 1968, Allan Rechtschaffen and Anthony Kales took the work of scientists like Loomis and Aserinsky and created a standardized sleep staging system using EEG technology, wherein sleep is divided into Non-REM sleep and REM sleep. Non-REM sleep was further subdivided into four phases based on brain wave patterns.

Expanded portability, capability, and scalability

Until relatively recently, EEGs were confined to laboratories because of their size and complexity. Berger’s original EEG was a massive machine, and it took some time for technology to advance enough such that the device could be reduced in size and scale without sacrificing accuracy. It wasn’t until 1992 that the first-ever portable EEG was made commercially available, ushering in a new era of access and scale.  

In the meantime, EEG technology has also been used to understand how we can connect the brain to the outside world. In the 1970s, the brain-computer interface, a term coined by Jacques Vidal, a computer scientist, was established in principle as a way to use EEG technology to control objects with electrical activity from the brain. In simpler terms, scientists discovered how to use brain signals alone to move things, a discovery that paved the way for modern prosthetics, brain implants, and more.

In 1998, an invasive (meaning it’s implanted into your brain) BCI was successfully implanted on a patient, and in 2004 a quadriplegic man named Matt Nagle received a BCI implant to retain his speaking ability. Since then, non-invasive BCIs have been trialed and successfully launched, allowing scientists to control robots, prostheses, and more. Likewise, researchers have attempted to discover how AI can pair with EEG technology to control machines and robots, observe and diagnose disease, understand and manage mental health conditions, and even interpret our thoughts and dreams. 

Today, portable EEGs are being used to deliver neurofeedback during activities like meditation, track and measure sleep phases, or even assist in the diagnosis and management of mental health conditions.

Muse and portable EEG technology

Although our brains are indeed our own – and presumably the generator and storage device for consciousness, personality, and memory – it often feels like our brains have a mind of their own, as if we are being controlled by the whims of some higher, imperceptible version of ourselves. We use things like meditation, pharmacology, and even ice baths in our attempts to tame our tempestuous brains to do our bidding: to focus harder, sleep better, think clearly, or feel balanced and at peace. As it turns out, the first step to conquering the brain is understanding it.

In 2001-2002, the founding team behind InteraXon and Muse began creating concerts where participants could control lighting and music with their brain activity. Participants wore early EEG headbands and could change the sound and lighting in the room by focusing or relaxing. The headbands detected different brainwaves associated with focus or relaxation, and the team's system translated this data into control signals.

They spent the next few years refining the technology, exploring its potential applications, and figuring out how to bring it from the lab to the world. In 2007, they founded InteraXon to leverage EEG technology to help the masses better understand and harness the power of their own brains.

In 2010, InteraXon's team showcased their EEG technology at the Winter Olympics, allowing visitors to control the lights on iconic structures like the CN Tower, Niagara Falls, and the Canadian Parliament buildings with their minds, all across the country.

By 2014, InteraXon launched its first EEG product, Muse, a brain-sensing headband designed to help people meditate. In 2015, Muse launched a seminal study to identify the biomarkers of aging in the brain, to help us understand how we can mitigate and even reverse the impact of age on cognitive performance. 

In the 2020s, Muse released the Muse S for Sleep, allowing users to track and measure Sleep EEG data with comfort and ease. In 2021, Muse released the Digital Sleeping Pill, which scans and responds to your brainwaves to help you fall and stay asleep. In 2022, Muse’s sleep tracking was able to identify different sleep phases with 86% accuracy, far exceeding the accuracy of other wrist or finger-worn sleep trackers. It achieved the precision of a sleep lab and expert technicians, bringing the power of a sleep lab into the comfort of your own home and bed.

Muse remains at the forefront of portable EEG technology, tirelessly pushing the boundaries of our understanding of the brain and its influence on physical and mental health. Backed by over 200 research studies from institutions such as Harvard, NASA, and the Mayo Clinic, Muse has demonstrated its effectiveness in various applications, including to:

Muse is even being used to help predict brain age and individual physiological characteristics using state-of-the-art machine learning. In the next 100 years, who knows how far EEG tech will come? 

Master your mind with Muse

Muse is a research-grade EEG headband at the cutting edge of wearable brain tracking technology. Our research team is continually advancing the field of science-based biohacking to improve brain health, focus, stress, and sleep for all, bringing the power of a neuroscience lab into your home. In the same way that wearable tech has tuned us into our bodies, we believe that everyone should be able to tune into their minds with ease. To learn more about how Muse can help you master your mind, visit our shop page to explore our models and choose your Muse. 


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