According to the US Department of Defense, electricity can turn beginners into experts—anything. The application of current to the brain — known as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) — has received funding from DARPA, the US Department of Defense, and more. And you can build your own with about $10 in parts, simple tools, and some soldering experience.

tDCS supplies a small current from the 9V battery to the brain. It turned out that this stimulation enhances human cognitive abilities. (listen to an episode of Radiolab from New York called «9 Volt Nirvana» if you’re skeptical) . Applying this current to various parts of the brain can give users temporary (and sometimes even permanent ) cognitive improvement. Studies show that tDCS also helps with depression, anxiety, and helps with meditation. The best-known part of the brain — the so-called F3 area — offers up to 40% improvement in certain learning categories. Unfortunately, the long-term effects on neuroplasticity, brain function, and more remain unknown.

The path to brain enlargement remains fraught with dangers, both from your ability to make mistakes and from the unknown long-term consequences of artificial nerve stimulation. Use this guide at your own risk! I can’t stress enough what users are showing the highest degree of security when creating your own tDCS devices. Please read the Electrode Placement section at the bottom of this article.

Can it kill you?

In the 1960s, a US Navy sailor experimented with a 9V battery — he accidentally pushed negative and positive electrodes through the surface of his skin and connected them to a 9V battery. As it turns out, blood (which contains iron) offers very little electrical resistance. As biological beings, our bodies conduct electricity like a circuit. Many of our internal organs receive electrical current from our brain. DC current can disrupt this signal, causing heart failure.

In addition, we know nothing about the long-term effects of tDCS on human physiology. While the electrical current of a 9V battery is quite low when applied to the tongue, internal application is lethal.

Step 0: Intimator MK. I design

Made yourself smarter with this DIY tDCS brain stimulator design

The tDCS device we are building in this tutorial is the Inthinkerator MK. I’m from Reddit /r/tdcs user Kulty. Kulty’s open design allows us to borrow and modify it.

From my point of view — as an amateur-amateur — the design looks good. It includes short circuit protection and is safer than other commercial devices such as the (our review). With proper assembly technique, the risk of a short circuit is very, very low. Keep in mind that the design comes with no warranty and could potentially set your brain on fire — you have been warned.

Step 1: Required Parts

DIY TDCS brain stimulator 01 TDCS parts

  • toggle switch
  • 2x 3.3 kΩ resistor
  • Resistor 1 kΩ
  • Resistor 680 ohm
  • 500 ohm. Potentiometer
  • Potentiometer 5 kΩ
  • White or blue LED
  • 2N3904 NPN transistor
  • Project box
  • Red banana jack
  • Black banana jack
  • LED Frame
  • 9V battery clip
  • Potentiometer knob
  • Battery 9V (I suggest battery)
  • Banana connector compatible wires

The total cost of parts should be around $10-$20, but you will also need some basic tools as you would with any electronics project.

Step 2: lay out the layout

Zap Yourself Smarter With This DIY tDCS Brain Stimulator TDCS Circuit Diagram

Test the circuit first on a breadboard to determine if the parts are good and if the schematic is correct — you won’t need all the parts. Note that we are using a 220 ohm resistor as a test load to simulate skin contact.

The exact holes the pieces are inserted into don’t really matter — focus on completing the diagram. If you’re not sure you want to use layout, be sure to check out our Beginner Skills for Electronic Projects for leadership first.

When done, you can attach the battery connector to your 9V battery and connect it to the positive and negative rails on the side of the breadboard. If everything works, you should see the LED turn on. If that doesn’t work, reanalyze the circuit to make sure it’s wired correctly.

Step 3: Submit your project

DIY smarter with this DIY tDCS stimulator project box mockup

Now take the project window and mark the location of the following components using a marker:

  • Positive banana plug (red)
  • Negative banana plug (black)
  • Trimmer potentiometer
  • toggle switch
  • NPN transistor
  • Potentiometer
  • Project box (of course)

Step 4: Drill holes

Made Yourself Smarter With This tDCS Brain Stimulator

You will need to drill six holes. I suggest drilling from the inside of the case rather than the outside. Also, make sure your components actually fit before moving on to the next hole.

  • Holes 1 and 2 : Drill two holes in the top of the box. They need to place the screws on the cathode and the anode banana jack. About 1/4 to 1/3 inch will do.
  • Hole 3 : Drill a large hole about 1/2″ in diameter to accommodate the LED light and its chrome body.
  • Hole 4 : Drill another large hole, about ½ inch in diameter, in the center of the box to place the potentiometer.
  • Hole 5 (not drilled in picture): Drill a small hole about 5/16″ in diameter to accommodate the adjustable trimmer potentiometer dial.
  • Hole 6 : Drill a hole about 1/16″ in diameter to fit the power switch.

Step 5: Placing the Components in the Box

DIY Smarter With This DIY TDCS Brain Project Stimulator With First Wire And Breadboard

Both banana sockets are at the top of the project window. This step will not require much effort. Simply drill two holes in the top of the box, remove the nut on the end caps and insert. You will then use the clamp nut to secure the device in place. The only exceptions are the NPN transistor and trimmer potentiometer, which you will glue in place.

NPN transistor : Be sure to place it with the round side up and the three prongs pointing to the right.

trim potentiometer : You’ll want to mount it so that the brass dial is peeking out of the hole in the case. When you place the trimmer potentiometer into the case, make sure the brass dial is secured with a lugnut. Lugnat is screwed onto the brass dial as soon as it is pushed through the hole in the project box.

Step 6: Potentiometer

Brain Stimulator Potentiometers tDCS Solders

Of the three leads on the potentiometer, you will solder insulated wires to two of them. Solder wire medium length to center contact . Then solder short wire to external contact .

Step 7: Trim Potentiometer

TDCS Brain Stimulator Trimmers Potentiometer Solders

Again, you will only be using two pins. Solder the center pin to the 1 kΩ resistor. You will notice that in the picture below I have already connected this to the emitter pin on the NPN transistor.

Then take the wire soldered to the center pin of the potentiometer and solder it to the outer pin of the trimmer potentiometer. You may need to bend some of these pins for easier access. Do not bend the trimmer potentiometer pins too much . A slight bend will not damage it — excessive bending will cause the pin to come off.

Step 8: NPN Transistor

DIY smarter with this DIY TDCS brain stimulator NPN transistor

There are three types of contacts on an NPN transistor: collector , emitter and base . Each pin corresponds to a separate solder joint. You must make sure, that the pins are connected correctly, otherwise the circuit will not work. You also need to make sure the flat side of the NPN transistor is facing way down.

  1. Collector : Solder insulated wire of medium length.
  2. The foundation A: Solder the short wire.
  3. emitter : Solder to 1 kΩ resistor, from central contact trim potentiometer .

Step 9: Toggle Switch

DIY smarter with this DIY tDCS brain stimulator

You will solder three wires to the toggle switch. Each of the contacts of the toggle switch has a rectangular shape with a hole in the middle. You can pass the wires through the holes, which makes soldering easier. Before you start connecting to the toggle switch, take long wire and connect its end to resistor 680 ohm . Like almost all physical connections, you will be soldering them together.

On the left ( external) pin you solder two parts. First, take a wire/resistor (as shown above) and solder it to the outer pin on the toggle switch. Second, solder a 3.3 kΩ resistor to the left (outer) pin. Soldering both at the same time is much easier than soldering separately.

Then solder red (positive) 9V battery connector to center pin toggle switch . Remember not to connect the battery until you’re done.

Step 10: LED

DIY smarter with this brain stimulator

The LED has two pins. Most LEDs use a long pin to indicate the positive terminal. This means that the short pin is negative. If you wire this the wrong way, the design of the circuit will keep the LED from lighting up, but the circuit will still conduct.

Negative ( short ) the contact is connected to the contact on the side ( not with center contact) of the potentiometer. Take a short wire from the outer pin of the potentiometer and solder it to the middle of the LED. At the top of the pin, solder the negative (black) wire of the 9V battery connector.

On the positive pin, solder the connection to the base pin of the NPN transistor (center pin). In the middle of the positive lead of the LED, solder a 3.3 kΩ resistor from the toggle switch.

Step 11: Anode and Cathode

DIY smarter with this DIY tDCS Brain Stimulator anode and cathode

Take the resistor end of the resistor/wire already soldered to the outer pin on the toggle switch and tighten it into the anode banana plug. You can tighten this without soldering using lugnut. Simply place the resistor wire against the first lug and tighten the second lug so that it is snug against the first lug.

Take a medium length insulated wire from the collector pin on the NPN transistor and secure it to the banana socket of the cathode using the same method described in the previous step.

Step 12: Testing Your tDCS Device

Made yourself smarter with this tDCS Brain Stimulator Multimeter

This phase requires a multimeter and a small jeweler’s flathead screwdriver. Testing won’t take long. You will notice that there are two holes at the base of the electrode connector (where it connects to the banana jacks). They can be used to test the electrical power of the device.

The maximum power of the Inthinkerator is 2 milliamps. I suggest turning the potentiometer knob all the way to the right (clockwise) and measuring the output. If it is outside the specified 2 mA, a trimmer must be used. Potentiometer for fine adjustment of the output.

And you did!

And here it is! A finished tDCS device that costs about $10. However, you cannot use thinker, until you have will appear suitable electrodes to attach it to the head. You can buy pre-made electrodes or create your own. Keep in mind that saline-soaked sponges are the easiest to use because they go through the hair. However, if you just want to experiment, gel electrodes offer low cost (and low reuse).

One DIY solution I found came from (again) Reddit user Kulty using sponge cloth and aluminum mesh.

Electrode placement

I won’t get into electrode placement, but one of the best sites for visualizing where electrodes go is tDCSPlacements and Reddit/r/tDCS.

It should also be noted that some «wires» or placement of electrodes can cause serious health problems in people with brain disorders. If you have a history of epilepsy, DO NOT use ECT of any kind. If you have brain implants such as metal plates, similarly: DO NOT use tDCS. It might kill you. Also, some parts of your brain may function at a reduced rate, especially in the area near the anode.

Let’s talk about tDCS in the comments Have you seen positive results? Did it make you feel anything out of the ordinary?

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