From my readings of others that have had a magnet implant (and my girlfriend, and her mother), these are some commonly asked questions that arise when people hear you cut yourself open and stuck a magnet inside.
I’m passionate about technology and electronics, and having a magnet implant that allows me to sense the power that makes them function is appealing. This quote from reddit user jcf_gauss captures another aspect of it:
“I’m fascinated by the idea that the world which we perceive is only a very thin slice of reality. Our hearing range is limited to about 10 octaves, our vision is only 3-color and covers an extraordinarily small section of the electromagnetic spectrum, a dog can smell compounds we can’t even detect, and there are whole other senses which we do not possess (electroreception, echolocation, pressure detection, etc). There’s this great idea called ‘Umwelt’, which is the idea that because animals’ senses pick up on different things, two creatures in the same ecosystem actually live in entirely different worlds. Being able to actually cross that boundary and sense the invisible magnetic fields that surround us every day is something I find incredible.”
Also, because I have long term plans to become Magneto.
What magnet did you implant?
The magnet is a high quality N52 neodymium magnet, 3mmx1mm. It is coated in a chemical called parylene-c, a bioneutral coating that is used with implants and pacemakers to both protect the implant from the harsh environment of the body and to keep the body safe from the heavy metals in the magnet.
Isn’t this dangerous?
In terms of the surgery, it’s relatively minor – little worse than a deep cut. All my equipment was sterilized, my operating environment was scrubbed down, and major precautions to keep the procedure safe. The surgery is performed by me, with two friends scrubbed up and ready to jump into action if I need help. Body artists will often do the implantations, but for a number of reasons (cost, insistence upon more dangerous biocoatings, lack of local anesthesia), I chose to do it myself. I spent over 100 hours researching hand anatomy, surgical procedure, and others who have undergone the procedure to ensure I was well versed enough to perform the incision competently and safely.
There are three real risks with magnetic implantation: infection, rejection, and integrity failure. The risk of infection will pass when my wound is healed – despite doing the surgery myself, I secured high quality, sterile instruments and clinical strength disinfectants to ensure everything was clean and free of infectious agents. Rejection is rare after the wound has healed, and is not catastrophic to the body as it is with organ or transplant rejection: if the magnet is rejected, the skin heals and bonds to itself rather than allowing a pocket for the magnet, forcing the magnet back out of the wound. This is avoided by making deep incisions and suturing the wound well; if it does happen, it can be painful but rarely dangerous. Finally, integrity loss is the only remaining threat – if the magnet is broken or the parylene coating fails, the magnet will be exposed to my body. My body will leech the iron from the magnet, discoloring the area severly and indicating an issue if I haven’t already noticed. I would then reopen the wound and remove the magnet. The timeframe for heavy metal poisoning to occur is much longer than the time it would take for me to notice a failure.
What about MRI?
The jury is out on this – some implantees report they have had MRI with no deleterious effects, while others say the magnet vibrated or heated but not so much that it was damaging to them or the magnet. Others have been given shields to wear by MRI techs, similar to what you might use for shrapnel. Most likely, I will be given a CAT scan instead. In any case, surgical removal is quick and easy, and I will be wearing a dog tag to alert medical personnel of my unique condition.
What about other magnets?
Magnetic dipole attraction drops off as a function of the inverse of distance squared (distance cubed in the case of a dipole magnet and a ferrous object/not another magnet), i.e. doubling a distance between a magnet and another magnet will cause attraction to drop by a factor of four. Even so, I take care not to get too close to extremely large electromagnets less out of concern that my subdermal magnet will be ripped out, and more out of concern that the direct pressure on my skin might occlude bloodflow and trigger rejection.
How painful was it?
I ordered lidocaine solution online (don’t you love the internet?) and performed a digital nerve block to numb my finger. The procedure is barely felt, which involvea making an incision and opening a pocket within my finger to slip the magnet it (I have my full surgical plan writeup in the sidebar).
Won’t you break computers/watches/[electrical device]?
Highly unlikely. The implant has a very weak magnetic fields; not even strong enough to wipe a debit card or floppy disk.
What does it feel like?
jcf_gauss again says it better than I could:
“Static magnetic fields are from permanent magnets, and they feel a bit like a ‘bump’ in space if the magnets are aligned to repel, or ‘divot’ if they are aligned to attract. It’s a half-dome of force that I can push into or pull out of. Alternating magnetic fields are generated by alternating currents, such as the electricity that comes from the wall. This magnetic field flips at a given frequency (60 times per second for US wall power), and the sensation is that of a buzzing vibration. It still has a half-dome shape, but it’s fuzzier, more permeable, and buzzes neutrally instead of pushing or pulling. I have to be no more than a few inches away to feel most fields. Both of these are interpreted from my brain feeling the magnet in my finger either vibrate or pull in one direction or another. However, this interpretation feels like a direct sense – rather than the sensation of a foreign object moving inside my finger, it feels like my finger itself is vibrating. ‘Seeing’ magnetic fields is a bit of a misnomer – it’s much more like I am touching them.”
The implant can detect live wires from dead ones with AC from a few centimeters, and my microwave feels like I have my finger on a vibrating motor from well over 2ft.
Can the implant pick things up?
Just staples and paperclips; it’s not that strong.
What are your plans from here out?
I’m currently working on on a finger sleeve with an embedded magnetometer and induction coil that can serve as both input, with the magnetometer sensing minute movements in finger pressure, and output, the induction coil pulsing to move the magnet in my finger at different frequencies and durations. I plan to set it up with an Arduino and emulate an HID device, which opens up possibilities for game control, mouse movement, and more.
Long term, an unobtrusive and minimal fabric sleeve with mounted ultrasonic sensors could serve as a compact rangefinding apparatus – heavy inspiration taken from Grindhouse Wetwear’s Bottlenose project. Anyone with super cool ideas should speak up!
I’m planning to remove the magnet after one year of implantation to preempt any possible breakdown of the coating. If it has sufficiently improved the quality of my life, I may reimplant on another finger. There’s a whole lot of active research going into biocatings right now, and while there’s nothing available in the next three months, the chemists and biohackers (“grinders”) I’ve met on the transhumanist message board Biohack.me have been looking into Titanium coatings that would dramatically improve magnet strength and safety of implantation. If those pan out, I’ll definitely use those.