The development of innovative tools for neuroscientific research is based on in vivo tests typically applied to small animals. Most often, the interfacing of neural probes relies on commercially available connector systems which are difficult to handle during connection, particularly when freely behaving animals are involved. Furthermore, the connectors often exert high mechanical forces during plugging and unplugging, potentially damaging the fragile bone structure. In order to facilitate connector usage and increase the safety of laboratory animals, we developed a new magnetic connector system circumventing the drawbacks of existing tools. The connector system uses multiple magnet pairs and spring-suspended electrical contact pads realized using micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) technologies. While the contact pad suspension increases the system tolerance in view of geometrical variations, we achieved a reliable self-alignment of the connector parts at ±50 µm provided by the specifically oriented magnet pairs and without the need of alignment pins. While connection forces are negligible, we can adjust the forces during connector release by modifying the magnet distance. With the connector test structures developed here, we achieved an electrical connection yield of 100%. Based on these findings, we expect that in vivo experiments with freely behaving animals will be facilitated with improved animal safety.
Keywords: freely-behaving; magnetic coupling; micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) technologies; microelectromechanical systems; neural interfacing; neuroscientific research.