How zapping his brain made Miles O’Brien a better pilot

Not long ago, the NewsHour’s science correspondent Miles O’Brien tested the effectiveness of brain stimulation by performing a tricky helicopter landing with — and without — a jolt to the brain.

In a simulator at Ohio’s Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Miles maneuvered around obstacles to land at a remote desert landing pad. Then, scientists delivered a 20-minute dose of current roughly equivalent to a 9-volt battery to his brain, turning it on “like a lightbulb.” He returned to the cockpit after getting zapped.

Transcranial direct current stimulation, he explains, relies on direct current to inhibit brain activity in the frontal cortex, the place where we consolidate declarative memories, improving alertness and blocking out distractions. This is just one example of how scientists use weak electrical current to modulate brain activity and boost human performance.

Watch Miles O’Brien’s full report on tonight’s PBS NewsHour.