The real-world value of magnetic vision

void-scarI wanted to share with you a remarkable conversation I had with a friend of mine who works as a nurse in a hospital. She also has a magnetic implant in her fingertip, and the ability to sense electromagnetic fields that comes with it. This may be the best example I’ve heard to date of the real-world value of magnetic vision, illustrating that it’s not “just a neat trick”.

Jennifer: Hey Shannon, I have a question for you about the magnet in my finger. It has been there for months. I am pretty used to the odd sensations that come with it. As you know, I’m a nurse and everyday since I got my magnet I have turned on nebulizer machines for my patients. I usually get a small “vibration” (for lack of a better word) around all electrical appliances. But, yesterday, I turned on one (that I have turned on multiple times since getting my magnet) that made the magnet “vibrate” so hard I thought it was going to fly right out of my finger in pieces. You could actually see my finger moving. It startled me a little. Naturally, I jerked my hand back. The machine was working fine, like always, and my finger was fine. The magnet still worked and felt as if it was in one piece still. So, I put my hand back towards the machine. It did it again. This is the only time it has ever done that. So, now I am curious to know, is there a possibility I am sensing a “short” in the wiring or some malfunction with the machine that has yet to become obvious to anyone without a magnet in their finger? None of the other machines (which are all identical) do it, and that particular machine has never done it in the past. I know nothing about electronics and mechanics, but this seems odd to me. I would feel horrible if I left this machine in my patients room for them to use if something were wrong with it, but since the only thing I could tell my boss is “It makes my finger feel funny” I left it there until I could try to find out if there is a possible problem or if I am just overreacting. Any information would be really appreciated.

Shannon: Yes, it’s completely possible that you’re sensing a short. Or perhaps a problem with the transformer… SOMETHING is causing a more powerful EM “bubble” to form. If you’re sure that one machine is significantly different from others that should be identical, then I think it’s safe to say that something is definitely wrong with it… Try moving your finger around the device to try and feel where the EM field is coming from — it will likely either be the engine or the transformer. Personally I would explain the issue to whoever is responsible or in charge.

Jennifer: I work tonight and will remove the machine the moment I get there. I will have to let you know what maintenance says about it. I will probably show them your message if that is ok. I could never explain it that well. I just had a gnawing in my stomach that something was wrong with it since it had never done that before. Thanks for the help and advice. I will keep you updated.

Shannon: Cool — keep me in the loop. It’s quite fascinating. I’m dying to hear what maintenance finds out.

The evening passed, and here’s the message I got in the morning.

Jennifer: Good morning Shannon. I just got off work and wanted to update you. When I got to work last night I went right for the nebulizer to get it out of her room. It had already been changed out. Evidently it had a nasty fall a few days ago and just stopped working yesterday afternoon. So they gave her a new one. The bad one is still under warranty so it is being sent back to the company that makes them. I have emailed our maintenance supervisor to see if there is a way we can track it with the serial number. I will let you know if I find out any more about it.

Isn’t that amazing? I hope this helps to illustrate what a wonderful and amazing thing magnetic implants are, and how the insights that this “sixth sense” gives a person are very real, and off valuable and legitimite insights into the modern world. I’ll wrap up by mentioning that the picture in this entry is of one of Jennifer’s many scarifications (since the magnet is pretty much invisible and doesn’t make much of an illustration!), this one by Stu Modifies.

So what’s it like having magnetic vision? [BME Publisher’s Ring]

So what’s it like having magnetic vision?

If you don’t already know about magnetic implants, you may want to read our previous articles on the subject, including the original interview about Todd Huffman’s magnets, a six-month retrospective on mine, as well as a magnet risks article with a follow-up by Jesse. In short, magnetic implants are small, encased magnets designed to be implanted in nerve rich areas in order to give the patient heightened sensitivity to EM fields — that is, magnetic vision. Because the magnets vibrate very slightly, the wearer’s senses begin to extend, giving them an awareness of electromagnetic fields and radiation.

Just like iron filings want to align themselves with a magnetic field, magnetic implants also want to align themselves with magnetic fields. This motion can be felt on an intuitive level by the fine nerves in the fingers, tricking the body into feeling like it’s touching a physical object when it interacts with electromagnetic fields of all sorts.

In this interview I wanted to talk about the “day-to-day” aspect of having implanted magnets — “what’s it like?” Magnetic implants are still quite uncommon, with possibly less than a hundred people having them. We’ll talk to eleven here — in order of when the magnet was implanted, Todd Huffman ([email protected]) had his done in January 2004, a stack of six magnets in a single case, implanted by Steve Haworth and made by Jesse Jarrell (Mr. Bones), who had a silicone case molded 1/16 length X 1/8 dia N45 NIB installed by Steve a few days later. Steve Truitt‘s magnet was self implanted in mid-2005 (and removed about a year later), and my (Shannon’s) magnets were done at about the same time by Steve Haworth. Also by Steve, Quinn Norton‘s magnet, since removed, was implanted in September of 2005. Jymmi‘s magnet was done in September 2006, and Powder‘s was done a month later, both by Steve Haworth. Fred has a 1/16″x1/16″ neodymiuym magnet implant in a custom made titanium casing (all the others here are in silicone), implanted by Nickk Leading. Anton and Dean were both done in January of 2007, and KYO got his most recently, in April 2007.

Jymmi having his implant done by Steve Haworth

When and how did you become aware of being able to sense things with your magnetic implant?

Fred: For the first month I thought this was a failure; my main goal was to be able to sense things and I hadn’t sensed anything so far. I work for a company where we manufacture a number of electronic things, and one day my friend was testing a large 230volt power supply with a huge transformer in it so I walked up and waved my hand in front of it and got that cool vibrating sensation in my finger tip. Immediately after I just started putting my finger up to several things I knew had transformers, clocks, cell phone chargers, and microwaves. So far my nebulizer, which I use for my asthma seems to have the strongest field.

Steve It was probably two weeks into having it that I started sensing things. I could feel my microwave stronger than anything.

Jymmi: I could feel small things at about a week to two weeks, like an electric shaver and a one inch earth magnet. After about three or four months I also could feel the electric fields in my non-magnetic hand. It’s not as strong as my magnetic hand — it’s more of a general feeling. About a month ago I started feeling the vibrations in my feet.

Powder: A few days after I had the implant done I was standing in my father’s garage near a large running engine. I felt what I thought was a light breeze on my hand but realised it was only in my implant finger. I started moving my hand closer and farther from the engine and felt slight differences in the sensation.

KYO: On the sixth day I picked up an electric sharpener and had a weird sensation — then I realised it was actually the magnetic implant reacting to the electro magnetic field from the engine.

Jesse: I tried static fields from large magnets fairly immediately after insertion, but the first really astounding sensation was provided by a power drill.

Todd: To quote from my blog, two days after getting the implant:

I experienced my first "in the wild" implant sensory experience. I was in the library checking my e mail, and as I walk out there is an anti theft gate thingy. When I stepped on the pad I felt my implant oscillate, and quite noticeably so. My initial reaction was surprise, since I wasnt consciously paying attention to the implant. After the initial adrenaline rush I walked back and forth through the sensor gate, and it is quite interesting. So far my interactions have been planned, i.e. putting magnets and metal near my implants to see what happened. Todays event was rather significant, it was not planned, nor was it forseen.

Dean: The first thing I noticed was while drinking a can of Coke. The magnets themselves obviously weren’t strong enough to pick the can up, but I could feel a slight sensation when holding the can itself. The best way to describe it is a tingling sensation. To date, I am the only person out of the three i know with the implants to get this with a can.

Quinn: Right after the implant, Steve passed a magnet close to my finger. I felt it move, and jumped. After that I wasn’t sure which sensations were the healing process and which were the magnet, but as time went on, I was able to distinguish more.

Shannon: The first thing I noticed was the drives and fans in my computer. I think I remember a vague buzzing in my fingertips, wondering what it was, and then moving my hands around and realizing that I was sensing definite fields and from that point on it snowballed (although I think they may be becoming less senstive over time — I don’t know if this is due to scarring or demagnetization).

Fred’s magnet picks up another small magnet.

What range of sensation are your magnets capable of?

Anton: I can feel rather faint magnetic fields and also electric currents at times, depending on how strong they are.

Fred: I can’t feel store security poles, but I have felt a metal detector as I walked through — surprisingly it didn’t go off like I thought it would. I have to have my hand less than a foot away from whatever I’m attempting to feel.

Jymmi: I am more sensitive to electrical currents. Sometimes the implant will vibrate or twitch depending on what I walk by. We have these big space heaters at my work, about fifteen to twenty feet up in the air and my whole hand vibrates when those turn on. We also have electric forklifts, and when I get close to the battery chargers it feels like an electric current running up my arm.

Steve: I could sense some electrical currents on certain things, especially larger things like my stove or dryer. I could feel certain types of security sensors at some stores. I was never able to feel anything from my computer though.

Powder: I can feel different amperages in various cables. I can also tell when a metal is a ferous or not. My favorites are the fields around microwaves (a couple of feet out), AC transformers (a few inches), and fans under the keyboards of laptops (about half an inch above and while typing).

KYO: range is hard to define since I find new things on a daily basis. But I’m basicly able to feel the magnetic field around magnets, my computer, some speakers, the oven, some fields around the electric wires (I can actually detect the flaws since the lower protection allows the field to get trough).

Jesse: On the lower end I can feel higher power draws through standard 120v insulated power cords (wall power), various functions inside computer equipment(from a distance), magnetism in the more magnetic alloys, on to stronger things like various components of high voltage equipment used in my machine shop, including insulated high voltage leads from a foot or more away, transformers, motors and magnetrons wherever they may exist, store security devices, the stove, and so on.

Closeup of Jymmi’s magnetic implant being installed.

Todd: Static fields are pretty uninteresting, and need to be pretty large. Oscillating fields I can sense at much lower amplitudes, and are more interesting because they occur more frequently in the real world for things I find interesting. I’ve never quantified the exact range, but I can sense a current running through an insulated wire if there is enough of it. Whatever a power cable to a hair dryer pulls I can sense, and probably about three quarters of that current.

Dean: The magnets themselves aren’t that strong, although I am able to pick up tiny pieces of metal and can also use them for various magic tricks in conjuction with my magnetic wedding band ring. The most sensation I get though is when walking through magnetic fields — those sensors they have by shop doors. Again it’s like a tingle within my finger, almost like a sixth sense.

Quinn: I felt about three different sensations from my implant. I can’t really describe them very well, but one of them I got consistently from my laptop, and another from electrical cords. The third I felt very rarely… And of course, a fourth: other magnets pulling on my finger. To this day one of the oddest things I have ever felt was the magnet spinning in my finger in response to circling it with another magnet. I tried to practice with it everyday, bring it close to things I thought would be sensable and concentrate on the sensation. After a while it became a comforting and even enjoyable thing. I would pass the magnet over parts of my laptop, and feel them consistently. After a while it helped me feel kind of like all was well with the world. I enjoyed concentrating on the feeling more than I thought I would. I was pleasantly surprised when I would run into unexpected sensations.

Shannon: I can barey feel static magnetic fields unless the field is very powerful (such as a large magnet). Vibrating EM fields ranging from spinning magnets in engines (power tools, the fans and drives in a computer, and so on) to any A/C or otherwise fluctuating electrical fields are very easy to feel. Powerful fields like you find in some security systems (especially the type that need to deactivate tracking tags) can actually be quite painful, but essentially an EM fluctuation is just like a physical vibration. So for example, a power cord will have a “buzzing” halo around it that I can feel without touching the cable itself. The size and tone of this field make it fairly obvious what I’m touching.

Paperclip trick by Powder.

What are some day to day ways you use your magnets?

Anton: I work in a hospital (in the ER) and I can tell if the MRI is in use about fifty feet away from the room. Needless to say, I can’t go in there when it’s on, or it will rip the magnets clean out of my finger — I guess that’s one way to remove them.

Fred: I actually use my magnet quite a lot, mostly just to see if stuff is turned on. I am able to locate transformers inside objects and thus detect if they are on. I work in production where I make tons of different electronic components. It’s fun because Im around a lot of huge transformers so it’s interesting to see how strong each of them are. I found a magnet under my bed once by feel alone, even though I wasn’t even looking for that and couldn’t see it.

Jymmi: I like to walk around work or through a store or just from room to room in my house and find different places that give off electric feilds — like air conditioners, tattoo machines, and refrigerators. I use my laptop everyday and there are still a lot of fields that I can’t figure out where they are coming from — the disc drive is kind of going bad and everytime it spins trying to read discs it puts off a crazy field. There is a small field around the steering wheel on my car — I can’t figure out if it’s from the metal vibrating. or if there is a magnet somewhere in there. Some cars have it, some don’t.

Steve: I didn’t really have any day to day uses other than just being able to sense things. Now that it’s been out for over a year, I can still sense the same magnetic feilds, just not as strongly.

Powder: I have used it to find hot cables in a bundle, and sometimes use it to test reed switches in some of the electronics I repair.

Jesse’s magnets being installed.

KYO: Working at McD, there are the fries that beep once the cooking is completed, and the magnet allow me to know about a second ahead that they will beep since there is a diffrent field that appears to make the alarm go on. Also, my imitation iPod tends to turn off by itself or simply go on pause, and the magnet allows me to know if it’s on or not without taking it out of my pocket. My cellphone is on vibrate, and I’m never sure if it’s my cell or not, but by holding my finger about half an inch away, I can tell for sure if it’s actually the cell that’s ringing. Finally I had used my magnet to troubleshoot a laptop, being able to detect something strange under the keyboard, and the tech did change a card that was located exacly in the area I had spotted the irregularities.

Jesse: Immediate awareness of high voltage is very comforting in a lot of ways — there is a reasonable amount of it around me in the shop where I live. Determination of ferrous alloys is frequently handy without having to go look for a magnet. Circuit tracing inside various equipment is often aided by it. Common shop dialogue: unenhanced individual: “Hey, what the hell is thing I pulled off that old assembly line?” enhanced individual: “I don’t know, but its got magnets inside the case here, here and here, I’m guessing the two along that guide rod are for positional sensing, and the one over here is probably a transformer.”

An interesting note is that I sometimes get “noise” from it — moving fields with no apparent source. Some of it may be the magnet just “righting” itself after being moved by a previous field or physical force and slowly settling back into a position that fits better with the tissues in my finger, but there have been a few occasions that were not so easily explained away, where I sensed apparent moving fields in open air with no visible source.

Todd: Occassionally I use it for diagnostics. For instance, in airports often the power plugs on the walls don’t have power, and I can test them out by just plugging in my power adaptor and feeling for the field — I don’t have to get my computer out. One time I was trouble shooting a water pump, and I could tell that the motor component was working just by feeling the fields, letting me know that the problem was with the pump-shoe thingy. I can also feel my laptop’s hard drive stepper motors, and I like knowing when my computer is moving out of RAM and dropping down into the HD for info.

Dean: I usally get most of my day to day use out of the magnet when going in and out of stores. It also helps to tell when certain things are turned on if there no other signs to tell you so. Like my computer monitor… the standby light has broke, but I am able to tell if it’s on standby of not by placing my hand on the screen. Then again though, it really is an old messed up screen. I really should replace it.

Quinn: A couple times, in determining if something was live or not. Once, I was able to work out that a demo wasn’t realistic based on the sensation from a cord.

Shannon: I’m very aware of power, so for example it’s easy to tell if something is plugged in because I can feel the power leaking out of the extension cord (and I can tell how much power is being drawn — and also tell the quality of the cable assuming there’s a frame of refernece). In day-to-day life, my electric stove has bad connections in some of the burners, so the amount of heat that a given dial-setting generates is different from day to day. Now, instead of using the dial, I just hold my hand an inch or two over the burner and “feel” for the right setting by sensing the amount of power that’s leaking off the coil. It’s actually quite fascinating how EM-saturated our environment is.

Jymmi’s powerful magnet picking up a couple of safety pins.

Does your magnet have functional (as in non-sensation) uses?

Fred: Sadly, I am only able to pick up other magnets and only small things like staples.

Anonymous: I’ve gotten laid a number of times directly attributable to the implant. Occasionally a girl on the fringe of my social group will be all like “are you the guy who put a magnet in his finger?” (swoon).

Anton: I can pick up very small, very light objects, and move the compass on my keychain — it’s great for bar tricks.

Jymmi: The most I can do is pick up screws, paper clips, and bottle caps — or spinning lighters. It really freaks people out when they hold your finger and you move the implant around with another magnet they can feel it moving around under the skin.

Steve: It didn’t hvae any functional uses for me, other than some “party trick” type stuff like picking up paper clips or things like that.

Powder: I use my magnet to pick up small screws I might drop while working on various electronics. I have used it to single out a cable in a bundle of cables. I mostly use it to do small magic tricks like playing with my compass or rolling other magents around without touching them. When I’m bored I’ll play by swinging a paperclip back and forth.

Todd: It has functional use in that it helps me reconceptualize the world around me, and every now and then I say something smart, and that is what people pay me to do. I got into my PhD program solely because of the implant. I was at a conference and some dude was all like, ‘there’s this dude who put a magnet in his finger’ and I was like ‘oh thats me’ and he was like ‘no, really’, and I was like ‘no really’. Then he made arrangements for me to get into my PhD program. Which I promptly dropped out of for sociopolitical reasons but it was pretty cool at the time.

Dean Newman I suppose the most use i get out of the magnets again would be when using with magic. Stopping a compass, or sometimes even a watch although that is a lot harder. After a while i was able to use it to “palm” certain objects although nothing bigger than a paperclip.

Shannon’s silicone-dipped magnetic implants being placed.

Why do you think some people report magnetic sensations without the magnet? (Both in new areas, and after removal)

Jymmi: I’ve been wondering if you need to have the implant to feel the electric field — if you can train your body to feel it without the implant. It would probably explain why I can feel it in both hands and feet, or maybe i’m just a freak. I think it is real. I’m not sure if it’s nerve density or something biological like high iron in the blood?

Todd: I sometimes percieve the magnetic sensation in two fingers, my left ring and pinkie fingers. However, I only have the impant in my left ring finger. I’ve thought about this phenomenon, and here is what I have believe is occuring. In the course of normal finger operation your pinkie and ring fingers often percieve things in parallel. For instance when you grab an ass or run your hands down a woman’s back those two fingers are feeling pretty much the same thing. Your nervous system has limited resources for transmitting information, and uses clever tricks to up the amount of information processing per calorie. Since those two fingers often run in parrallel, at some point for efficiency the nervous system constructed a compression algorithm. The dual finger perception with only one implant is an artifact of that compression. The phenomenon isn’t 100% consistent, I’d estimate 10% of the sensations come up dual.

Shannon: I can’t currently sense EM fields in any place other than the fingertip that contains the magnet stack (and the ones that have been removed don’t appear to retain any sesnation), and don’t have any “crossover” between fingers.

Quinn: I suspect this is a matter of learning to concentrate. Before I went to Phoenix I designed a test just to make sure it was real, picking out a live wire from 4 choices. We did it double blind back in California with unmodified controls. People actually could pick out the live cord better than the stats would have had it. When I sat down to try it, I could pick out a live cord about 80% of the time, about twice the other controls. We were all surprised, but after talking to some people that worked with electronics, it turned out this was not at all unique. I think it’s entirely reasonable to think that learning to concentrate on AC would let you do it with your skin even without a magnet; though not as reliably. We are, after all, conductive.

Please note that magnetic implants are still highly experimental and the underlying encasement technologies and so on are not yet mature. If you want one, please be sure to research and understand the risks in advance!

Quinn’s implant (note the discoloration) just before removal.

Shannon Larratt

“Healthy” Magnetic Implant Removed

The waste material you see below is all that was left of a magnet that had been in place for quite a while that was removed as part of testing — James Wisniewski, who removed the implant, writes,

“These are the remains of a single magnet implanted in a finger tip. The magnet has broken down, but left the surrounding tissue intact. This magnet was in for over eight months and there were no visible signs indicating any problem with the magnet. The removal was to check on the condition of these experimental magnets along with the interior pocket of tissue which it sat in.”

I’ll say again: the functional effects of the magnetic implants are absolutely wonderful, but their current stability and safety level is far from making them acceptable for general use in my opinion.

Magnetic Implants hit the media

Since WIRED (whose story I found via boingboing) are talking about magnetic implants (click that link for my own experience with them), I thought I ought to re-mention them since BME has been covering them for the last few years. The article finishes by mentioning that a 70-shor silicone is being planned for future magnets, which I have to strongly disagree with. A thin silicone sheath, even if it’s a bit harder, is simply not going to protect the magnet in the long term and I do not consider it a viable option unfortunately.

I hope we figure something out so magnets can be implanted for the long term, because they really are a sixth sense (or at least an interface to the sixth), but I don’t believe the solution lies in silicone, and in fact, I think it’s actually in some ways a worse idea because the magnet lasts longer (probably) before it starts to break down, increasing the chances that there will be complications…

This one here is on Shawn O’Hare (who I’ve mentioned here before), who is experienced enough with a scalpel that I’m sure he can remove his own when the time comes.

Another two months of magnetic implants [The Publisher’s Ring]


April Fools?
Another two months of magnetic implants


“Man could escape danger only by renouncing adventure, by abandoning that which has given to the human condition its unique character and genius among the rest of living things.”

Rene Dubois


Most years I publish an “April Fools” article here on BME (articles like Adding and Subtracting, Joshua, The Raelians, and Love at First Bite). This year I’d like to write about dealing with the aftermath of something arguably foolish instead. As you know, last year I had magnets implanted in my fingertips in order to allow me to sense electromagnetic fields. While I’ve been very happy with them on the sensation end of things, as I left off with the last article, it appeared that one of the magnets had started to break down after its silicone coating was damaged by opening a pickle jar wrong (please read that original article first if you have not already).


Since that writing, as you can see above, the other side of my hand got similarly irritated (although no trauma that I know of occurred to initiate it as it had on the first problem) and started to blacken and become uncomfortable. I also started seeing photos of magnets taken from other people’s bodies which had significantly broken down — here is, I believe, what is happening:


The magnet starts as a small gold-coated neodymium (rare earth) magnet encased in a thin bubble of silicone. These magnets are tiny (about a third the size of a grain of rice), so the coating is extremely fragile in parts. It doesn’t take much for it to become compromised, and with only a tiny gap (as seen in the middle picture), the body starts to break down the magnet, extracting the substances it can use and trying to encapsulate those that are toxic. Not long after (within weeks if not less), the magnet is almost completely broken down and becomes a loose powder of toxic elements surrounded by bits of silicone. At this point it has of course also lost its magnetism so it is no longer functional either.

Because the effects of neodymium exposure of this type are relatively unknown, and in other circumstances the substance is known to be cytotoxic, mutagenic, and carcinogenic, and because it was somewhat painful, I believe it made sense to have them removed. I asked my friend Tom Brazda to do the extraction — he’s the only person I’d trust to do this (and I suspect there are few piercers who know him and his work that wouldn’t put him on a top five body piercers of all time list).

On to the gory details. Be warned that these pictures are graphic.


In the first picture we’re applying a topical anesthetic to my finger. The glove-cot contraption is on because the anesthetic needs to be applied without coming in contact with the air. In the second shot Tom is doing a final check of my finger and marking the location of the implants. While four implants had been originally installed, only two appeared to be there eight months later.


My suspicion is that the set slowly migrated together. I believe this shifting has caused them to appear as two, and I also believe that it’s possible that this shifting, which would have caused the two units to vibrate against each other, may have accelerated the breakdown of the silicone.

Oh, and at about this point I got a phone call from a friend urging us to consider aborting the removal… She’d had her doctor (a GP) remove hers, and he cut down toward it, reached in to grab it, and it just fell to pieces… He backed out and referred her to a plastic surgeon. So far she has kept it, and three months later her finger is very discolored (far more than mine was), and still quite sore. She did however mention that she found a clinical reference to neodymium — it is at times used in laboratory mice to extend their lifespans. Hmm… Maybe it’s not so toxic after all?

Naw, better safe than sorry I think!


Anyway, we began cutting a flap over the more recent and more irritated of the two magnets. Rather than just cutting down and spreading the skin and trying to pull it out, the plan was to make a cut that would let us just fold open the skin over the implant and remove it either by excision, scraping it off, or irrigating it out depending on the consistency. We couldn’t be sure what the specifics of the procedure would be until we actually got in there.


The top half of one or two of the magnets pretty much just fell out (you can see one in the first picture), but we were left with a largely empty cyst-like shell made up of and surrounded by blackened tissue. There were some loose flakes and powder but most seemed to be a part of the spongy mass of scar tissue. Irrigating it didn’t move anything, and it was completely adhered to the flesh around it, so there was no way to grab it and pull it out. All we could do is cut all around it and remove it as a single piece.


Some healthy tissue was removed, but the majority (if not all) of the toxic material from that side appears to be gone.

Going into the second side (the older of the two compromised sides) we encountered a little different tissue. The implant also sat quite a bit deeper in the flesh; deep enough that we couldn’t be completely sure at the time there wasn’t another hidden behind it (and while I think it’s gone, I won’t be entirely certain what’s left until the healing is done).


When we’d dug down deep enough to expose it, the good news was that the cyst was quite well developed. It was rooted in place a little, but we were able to pull it out without significant damage to the surrounding fingertip and with minimal excision of healthy flesh. It was seriously gross though seeing these really vile and rotten looking blobs coming out of my finger!


Now, with my fingertip completely exposed, but finally clean, it was time to stitch me back together, and we were done. I’ve been very stressed out over these problems, and it felt so good to see those sutures going in and knowing this was almost over.


My only regret is that we accidentally threw away the removed tissue and magnet bits as we were disinfecting the workspace. I’d hoped to take a much closer look at the magnet, but unfortunately that “oops” moment killed that. I can however share with you a magnet that rejected from the finger of a friend of Steve Truitt after about four months. This one has barely broken down, but the silicone is gone from one side, part of the gold coating has eroded, and the inner core has started to decompose.


Some people’s bodies will reject the magnets like a splinter (the lucky people), other bodies will try and encapsulate them, others will try and break them down, or a combination of all of these strategies. Internal body chemistry will also greatly affect how quickly the process happens.

I’m treating the wound with Neem pills and a Neem spray and so far it appears to be healing quite well. My right hand, which also contains magnets (but in a stacked configuration and with a thicker coating of silicone), so far has experienced no problems. In fact, it’s gotten more sensitive over time and I find myself becoming more and more aware of the electromagnetic environment around me (for example, noticing “hot spots” in power cables and couplings that are leaking radiation into the air)… But, I think it’s only a matter of time before that stack is compromised as well, and as sad as it will be to remove them, I think I have to take them out as well.

Talking to Steve Haworth and others, it sounds like a significant percentage of the small magnets implanted in people are already breaking down. It’s effectively a defective product, not even safe enough for a year in the body, let alone a lifetime. Steve tells me he’s considering ceasing sales of his smallest units (they are currently for sale on eBay), but honestly, especially given that we’ve known now for months that they’re not very stable, I feel that it needs to go a step farther and a recall needs to be issued for all of the silicone coated magnets that are out there. I do not believe that any of them will remain stable in the long term, and I believe that all of them will break down in time as I’ve described here.

One of the problems with body modification these days is, well, BME and the internet in general… When someone comes up with a great new idea like these magnetic implants (and it is a great idea), it’s instantly posted, and everyone wants it right now. But now, because of that rush, there are dozens of people, many not inside the body modification industry (so they’re without easy access to removal, let alone monitoring), that need surgery that could have been averted with a proper testing cycle.

I’d like to propose that for volatile implants and other procedures that can have unforeseen effects on the body, that these procedures should be limited to people working inside a studio or otherwise able to go to the studio the practitioner works in on a nearly daily basis. These things need to be aggressively monitored and documented so the risks are thoroughly known before they move into the client sphere. It’s one thing when we endanger ourselves as professionals inside this industry, but it’s another thing if clients who may not understand that the risks are not fully known are put into that same danger.

When I receive photos to BME, for every thousand fresh photos I receive perhaps one hundred healed photos… Of the two, it’s the healed photo that has more value. Think surface piercings — you can do a crazy corset with rings and it looks great fresh, or a forearm piercing with a straight bar and it looks great fresh too, but good luck getting a healed photo. Furthermore, for every healed photo I get, I get one problem photo (that is, a photo of a serious complication). I think because when people get a body modification others tell them it’s a stupid thing to do and too dangerous, so when things go wrong, there’s often a sense of shame and embarrassment… So they hide that the problem happened, and other people repeat their mistakes because they were unaware of the risk.

Let me be very clear about this: things go wrong all the time. It’s part of the game. But when things do go wrong, rather than hiding it, we need to share everything we know about the problems so they are less likely to happen to someone else.

In this magnetic implant procedure, one main simple thing went wrong: the magnet is not stable in the body, and the coating provided was not a sufficient permanent barrier between the magnet and the body. For existing people, I again strongly urge removal — and don’t kid yourself into thinking that because yours hasn’t broken down yet that you should be able to keep it. If yours hasn’t broken yet, thank your lucky stars that removal is going to be much simpler!

For people who’ve not gotten magnets implanted, I really have to emphasize that implanting this style of magnet with a thin silicone sheath, knowing what we now know, is reckless to the point of being stupid, since it simply doesn’t work. The initial product has turned out to be defective — but I believe we can still make this work. Glass (like an RFID) won’t work because the magnet can’t be exposed to heat without de-magnetizing it. There are however other polymers such as polyurethane (used to coat artificial hearts) with better durability and good biocompatibility that can be applied and cured at room temperature. So don’t think the idea of giving humans magnetic vision is a dead one!

[Please be sure to visit the companion article to this by Jesse Jarrell; it’s a great explanation as to the thinking that went into the development, and also includes some of Jesse’s ideas as to why things have gone wrong and how they could be fixed.]

But let’s be sure that we take it slow, wait out a few people testing them before we go putting hundreds of experimental devices into people who can’t easily find removal options, and document our failures as well as our brilliant theories! There’s nothing wrong with taking risks, but taking needless ones is, well, foolish.

Shannon “Nine Finger” Larratt

Magnetic Implants: A Six Month Retrospective [The Publisher’s Ring


Magnetic Implants
A Six Month Retrospective


Life is “trying things to see if they work.”

– Ray Bradbury


In early 2004 BME documented the concept of magnetic implants for the primary purpose of sensory augmentation. You can read that article for an introduction and information on the originators, but the basic concept is that if you implant small magnets under the skin, they will move in response to an electromagnetic field and transfer this as sensation to the surrounding nerves. This in effect allows one to extend “vision” (or touch) into the electromagnetic spectrum, giving you a sixth sense that normal humans do not have — the first real “superhero” modification?Roughly speaking, magnetic implants break down into the following types:

  • Sensory
    I believe this is the most important type of magnetic implant (as I’ve described above), and it is what this article focuses on.
  • Sexual
    Magnetic implants placed inside the sensitive genital anatomy of a couple (so each partner has their own implants) have the potential of interacting, enhancing the feeling of body parts moving against each other to include anatomically internal sensation as well as normal external stimulation. It is difficult to say how perceptible these would be though, if at all. Paired implants in lips (also highly sensitive) are a related variation.
  • SymbolicAnother variation on couples implants is more symbolic than functional or erotic is paired hand implants, placed in order to create a magnetic bond as the two people hold hands. I do not believe that the static magnetic field generated by small implants is enough to be felt except as a placebo, so this would generally be something I’d consider purely symbolic in nature.
    Couples implants on Steve Haworth and his partner Cookie
  • Functional
    Most of the magnets used above are too small to actually pick up anything larger than a small paperclip or staple. Larger magnetic implants are in theory able to pick up screws and heavier items, potentially making them quite utilitarian in nature. This is however complicated by the fact that placing a large enough magnet under a fingerpad is not entirely comfortable.

In relation to the last type, sometimes people ask about whether magnetic implants could be used to hold a watch or eyeglasses or other appliance in place. The short answer is that this is not safe or viable. Even very slight compression (as you’d have between the internal magnet and the external device) can quite quickly cause the tissue to be choked off, die, and induce rejection. As a point of trivia, this is why it can be so dangerous for a child to swallow magnets — if two magnets clamp across the intestinal wall, they crush it and it leads to the development of a very dangerous hole.

That said, the magnets involved are also very small, so attaching devices wouldn’t be easy because they’re just not powerful enough. The good thing about this though is that the magnets have zero effect on credit cards, hard drives, monitors, and so on.

Personally I sought out magnetic implants for sensation — to experience more of the world around me and have a deeper understanding of physical existence — which brings me to Steve Haworth and Jessse Jarrell.

The location of my five (ten?) magnetic pellet implants

Getting them done

The first generation of magnetic implants have been manufactured by Jesse Jarrell (IAM:Mr. Bones, who you also know from projects like Kaos Softwear) and have been primarily installed by Steve Haworth (IAM:steve haworth), easily the most experienced implant artist in the world and one of the only ones that I trust to work on me. After making plans at the 2005 APP meeting in Las Vegas to do the procedure, it was just a matter of being able to synchronize our busy schedules. This ended up happening a month or two later as I was on a road trip from Chicago with my wife Rachel (IAM:MiL0) to our home at the bottom of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico.

After discussing various placement options and configurations, we decided to try two different possibilities so I could help assess which worked best — a “grid” of four single magnets, and a set of five or six magnets stacked up and encased as a single unit. The magnets themselves are rare earth neodymium magnets (so they are quite strong for their size) and are encased in silicone to make them safe to implant (safer anyway). One of the magnets I’d had for some time, and the others were made to order that day by Jesse. The process of autoclaving can weaken the magnets, so they were disinfected using a chemical soak.

While one could in theory implant the magnets using a needle follow-through method similar to a beading, we put them in place by first making a small incision in the tip of the finger and opening a pocket using one of Steve’s smaller dermal elevators. It took a remarkable amount of force to create the pockets. After each pocket was ready to accept the magnetic pellet, Steve (assisted by his partner Cookie; IAM:Miss Cookie) used the back of a taper to push them into the hole — this was quite difficult to do as the magnets themselves are about a third the size of a grain of rice, very smooth and slippery, and of course the hole had blood in it. But, after a little fumbling with them, they each were in place. Small sutures held the wounds closed and I was bandaged up. The five separate incisions and placements were all completed within half an hour, and while having the ends of your fingers messed with is certainly highly unpleasant, it was far easier than I’d anticipated.

The first incision being made and the pocket being created using a small spatula.

proc3 proc4

Inserting several of the small magnets — you can see how tiny they are!


proc5 proc6

Closing the wounds with single sutures.




They were quite tender for the first week until I cut the sutures out, at which point the pain went away almost immediately. If I touch the area they can be felt and are a little tender if pressure is applied, but not so much that they affect typing or most things I use my hands for. The incision points have left several tiny, almost invisible scars — nothing you’d notice unless you know what to look for. The implants themselves are not visible and do not distort the skin because they’re so tiny. As of this writing I have had the implants for six months.

Effects and Sensation

Jesse had told me that it could be a month before I’d be able to feel anything from the implants due to the surrounding tissue taking time to normalize, so I was surprised when I felt a strange sensation in my fingertips as I used my computer about a week after the procedure. My laptop at the time had dual harddrives and due to using a desktop CPU, an inordinate quantity of fans. Running my fingers through the air over the surface of the computer I could feel a faint vibration coming from each of these microengines, and this vibration changed slightly as the actions of the engines changed the electromagnetic field they were generating. It’s hard to exactly describe what it feels like — it’s definitely not as simple as “I can feel the implant vibrating under my skin”, which is true, but I am completely unaware of the presence of the magnets… It’s more like being able to “touch” the EM field. It’s very tangible, and the best way I can describe it is a combination of vibrating air and a strong sense of static electricity.

Later on I started being able to sense other fields as well. Sometimes I can feel store security gates as I pass through them, although usually I can’t feel them at all unless my hand happens to pass very close. Only once (at an art gallery in Paris) did I experience a very obvious gate — it was turned up so high that it was almost painful at a distance of two or three feet, feeling very much like dipping my fingers into an ultrasonic cleaner; an extremely fast and aggressive vibration! My theory is that the system was malfunctioning, but of course no one else could possibly have been aware of that. Another device that generates a very strong field that I can feel from a distance is my microwave. What’s particularly interesting about that is if I put it on a variable program (ie. defrost and reheat a plate), I can feel the EM field’s vibration strength and frequency change as it passes through different stages in the cooking. I’m not sure if I should worry now that my Mexican-bought microwave is not properly shielded? Finally, I can also feel the vibration of power transformers and sometimes even emissions from power cables themselves. Our environment is sensually rich in ways most people are completely unaware of!

So far with the limited number of people who’ve gotten these implants it seems like different people are more sensitive to different types of fields — personally I am most sensitive to motors. I don’t know if that’s due to subtleties of the placement and orientation of the implant, or if it’s something related to the person themselves. As I mentioned above, I have different magnetic configurations in each hand; four individual magnets in a grid in my left hand and a long single stack of magnets in my right hand. Surprisingly, my experience has been that there is absolutely no difference between the two. To me they feel completely alike. This also makes me believe that the differences that various people have experienced in what they can sense is due to their own innate nervous structure rather than the placement itself.


The biocompatibility of neodymium has not been investigated (so carcinogenic and mutagenic toxicity and so on are complete unknowns) but it is considered a generally toxic irritant and moderately poisonous with documented adverse effects. Really, no reasonable person should be asking for exposure to it by implanting it under their skin! Let me emphasize that this is a fundamentally risky act with unknown consequences.

In order to keep the neodymium from coming in contact with the skin, the magnets have to be coated with something inert. In my case and in the case of all the others that I know of, this is achieved by coating them in a sheath of biocompatible silicone (the same type of medical silicone that is used for everything from chin implants by plastic surgeons to 3D-art by non-medical practitioners). Unfortunately so far this solution has not been entirely ideal.

In my own case, I found myself with a hankering for pickles one afternoon and needed to open a jar of them on which the lid had become stuck. I grasped the jar with my right hand and the lid tightly with my left and turned. As I did so I felt a pain around one of the small magnets in my left hand as shearing forces tore across the magnet and its sheath… I realized immediately that I’d just “peeled” the silicone off of the magnet. There was a slight inflammation and soreness over the next week but it settled down fairly quickly. However, as time has gone by the surrounding tissue has blackened, confirming my theory that the neodymium was exposed to flesh. I haven’t decided yet what to do about this problem. A reasonable person would probably choose to remove at least the compromised implant, but I’m not a reasonable person. So for now it has become another experiment. I worry as well that my stacked magnet is going to break in half if I hit it wrong.

You can see the discoloration from the compromised magnet.

In addition to damage to the silicone sheath from shearing forces and impact damage, the current method of production — hand dipping in liquid silicone — is problematic because it can very easily result in thin patches that are sensitive to the point where they become compromised during the process of insertion. If a mold is eventually made for casting the silicone sheath this problem should be all but eliminated.

Unfortunately I am not the only person to have experienced complications. My friend Monte Vogel (who you know from BME’s QOD and as IAM:MONTE) had to remove an implant from a client’s lip. I should note that while he removed it, the implant was put in place by an inexperienced practitioner in Minnesota using a traditional beading style procedure (ie. piercing with a 12ga needle and following this with the magnet). Somehow during the procedure it seems the silicone sheath (already extremely thin in spots due to hand dipping) was compromised, exposing the neodymium to flesh, and this was compounded by problems with migration.

BME: What necessitated removing the implant?

MONTE: It had moved into the upper tissue layers and looked like a growth or cyst just under the tissue, and became both a visual and physical nuisance.

BME: What was the removal procedure like?

MONTE: I used a #11 scalpel to gradually cut my way into the area, blotting it with gauze as I worked. Extra precaution was taken going in so that I wouldn’t damage the implant since we didn’t know at the time that it had been compromised. When I got to the area all I saw were little black flecks. I gently tweezed out the ones that I couldn’t pick away with the scalpel blade tip. Below these pieces was the majority of the implant.

I never saw the implant before it was placed, so I don’t know what it looked like originally. What I removed was the small magnetic piece with half of the silicone casing still attached to the back side with no other silicone pieces to be found. The silicone was translucent making it impossible to see. Imagine dropping a contact the size of half a pin head — the original intact pellet implant was small enough to be placed with a 12ga needle.

BME: What was the condition of the surrounding tissue?

MONTE: The surrounding tissues that had been in contact with the exposed side of the implant had stained a darker color. This made it even harder to find and remove all the little flecked pieces but I spent extra time to make sure that I removed everything I could see and find.

BME: Given what you’ve seen, what’s your assessment as to the viability of this procedure and type of implant?

MONTE: The implant’s thin silicone coating is very fragile, and with all of these potential points of compromise it is hard to say how safe any procedure of this type would be. This is definitely not something you would want to have an inexperienced practitioner do. Know the risks and reduce them as much as possible.

My own assessment as to the viability of these implants is that figuring out a strong and durable sheath is essential. I would strongly recommend that perhaps even an alternate polymer, or at least a much harder silicone, is required to safely implant neodymium or another potentially toxic substance into the body.


First of all, let me say that I’ve been very happy with my magnetic implants so far, and that I understood the risks (and accepted the unknowns) coming into this. The experience of developing another sense (or at least a pseudo-sense that extends my ability to “touch” in new directions) has been very exciting and illuminating, and I wouldn’t want to give that up. For me the effects have been more of a curiosity and growing experience than something objectively “useful”, but Jesse Jarrell who has a more electrically-oriented life tells me that he’s been finding them genuinely functional:

“I find I use mine more and more as a true tool or utility, especially since I have moved into a new warehouse and have been doing a lot with wiring and construction, where the sense actually comes in handy surprisingly often. I think professional electricians would get a lot from these.”

That said, it is not a procedure that I can recommend in good conscience until the containment problems (the delicacy and potentially short lifespan of the polymer sheath) are solved. I believe that knowing what we know now that implanting the current style of magnetic implant is irresponsible and reckless. However, once this problem is solved, I recommend these implants whole-heartedly. In terms of the configuration that I recommend, I believe that groups of single, small magnets are far safer than and just as effective as the stacked groups.

Jesse concurs and gives us a hint as to his future developments,

“My thoughts for improvement have gone towards more and smaller magnets. We may be getting our own parylene coater soon [ed: parylene is a biocompatible dielectric coating that is commonly used to shield non-compatible medical implants from surrounding tissue], so that would allow for a much thinner but still robust coating.”

“I like the idea of a dispersed magnetic dust — lots of tiny units spread across an area. It wouldn’t be the easiest to install or remove, but I think it would yield the best sensory results. I also think longer thin strips of tiny magnets might be a nice compromise for installation and removal ease.”

I definitely like the idea of an implantable magnetic dust that could sensitize large areas of skin and look forward to seeing where functional body modification goes in general. For me, I probably have to steel myself for some serious discomfort and take scalpel to fingertip and remove the problematic implants. I wonder how blind I will feel having been given this extra vision and then losing it again?

If you’re interested in having magnetic implants done yourself, or are a practitioner looking to buy them, my advice would be that you contact Steve or Jesse directly. Links to their IAM pages are above, and you can also visit and directly for alternate methods. Good luck everyone, and if you try something, please be sure to let BME readers know how it went for you!

Shannon Larratt


The Gift of Magnetic Vision [The Publisher’s Ring]



The Gift of Magnetic Vision


Maybe technology eventually turns them into something that we wouldn’t call human. But that’s a choice they make — a rational choice.

Bruce Sterling, Schismatrix


It’s hard to deny that Steve Haworth (iam:steve haworth) has been one of the most influential and innovative voices in body art over the past decade. In the field of implants as sculptural art he has singularly defined the art form, and with the assistance of Jesse Jarrell (iam:Mr. Bones) has continued to escalate it into increasingly refined forms. I heard a rumor recently that they’d been experimenting with magnetic implants, and I thought to myself, “cool party trick”, and checked out the pictures on Steve’s page.

Photos of Todd’s implants being inserted by Steve, and showing them responding to a magnet.
Photos courtesy of Steve Haworth and Jesse Jarrell.

A fascinating letter from the client was posted along with it — he’d had a small silicone-coated neodymium magnet implanted, and it turned out to be far, far more than just a party trick!


Sensory Experimentation Somatosensory Extension
Reflections by Todd M Huffman [excerpt]


I am now able to perceive magnetic fields in ways not naturally possible. The sensation is different than holding a magnet, as the neurons are stimulated with a higher resolution. With the implant I can detect subtle changes in polarity and strength that I cannot when equipped with a magnet in the conventional manner. Yet the most significant observations have come from another property of implants, their relative permanence to exogenous artifacts. Being able to perceive magnetic fields has expanded my conscious perception of magnetic fields ‘in the wild’.

In one sensory incident, I was walking out of the library, and I sensed the inductive anti-theft device. I have walked in and out of dozens of libraries hundreds of times, and never once have I thought about the magnetic fields passed through me to prevent me from stealing a book. I have been intellectually aware of the mechanism, but never paid attention until now. Another time I opened a can of cat food for my girlfriend’s pets, and I sensed the electric motor running. My hand was about six inches away from the electric can opener, and I was able to sense where the motor was inside of the assembly. Again it brought my attention to a magnetic source that I understood intellectually, but would have otherwise been unaware of. I feel I am one step closer to fully grokking the reality I inhabit.

The experience of my implant is not nearly as rich as my visual or auditory sensation, but nevertheless after a week it has dramatically changed the way I think about my daily sensory experience. A small magnet embedded in a finger may seem like a trivial exercise. I find it difficult to explain the significance, somewhat akin to trying to explain to a blind person what it is to see. The problem isn’t defining the technical characteristics of the visual system, but one of trying to convey what conscious perception of certain wave frequencies does to the way a person conceptualizes the world.

In modifying my body I have ever so slightly altered the way I organize the world in my mind. I eagerly await the day in which I can integrate more elaborate senses into myself. With every passing minute I try to see radiant heat, hear radio waves, and think the thoughts of those that pass by. And by better understanding what I cannot feel, I can fully appreciate what I have now.


I was floored. This seemed to me to be one of the biggest steps body modification has taken. The notion of enhancing sensation is nothing new to anyone with genital modifications, but the idea of adding something fundamentally new to the function of the body is a radical concept that only a few people have done meaningful experiments in. I had to interview Todd about his experiences, and he was happy to help us out.

BME: Tell us a bit about yourself… Where are you from?


TODD: I grew up in Los Angeles and a small town, Teutopolis, in southern Illinois. When I was growing up my main interests were in emergency medicine. I started college studying nursing, with plans to continue on to medical school. While in high school I got my certification as a Nurses Assistant, and completed a course to be an EMT. These experiences are relevant because I was very thorough in my research on body modification, the effects of magnetic fields on tissues, implant construction, and the specific procedural skill of Steve Haworth (the implant artist who worked with me on the project).

I worked as a nurse’s assistant in the St. Louis University Hospital Neurology unit, where I developed my interest in neuroscience — and my aversion to medicine. I don’t dislike the medical profession per se; I just prefer an occupation with more freedom. I moved back to California to attend California State University at Long Beach and studied neuroscience. After graduation I took a job with the Alcor Life Extension Foundation (, and will be working there for two years until I start graduate school.

One important aspect of my life is transhumanism. I have been identifying myself as a transhumanist since the age of thirteen, when I discovered the website of the Extropy Institute and the philosophical writings of Max More ( and Nick Bostrom (, among others. The transhumanist philosophy has provided a useful framework for me to build ideas and concepts upon, such as the concept and practice of attempting to extend my sensory experience.

BME: Did you have other modifications before this particular “upgrade”?


TODD: Before this my body modifications have been limited to piercing, both cosmetic and play. Our society has perfected the art of pain avoidance and disassociation from our bodies. Piercing and other body modifications bring the mind back to the body and increase a person’s awareness of their physical self. For such a materialistic society, America has lost touch with their physical self.

BME: So this the first “functional” modification you’ve gotten?


TODD: Yes. The magnetic implant is probably the crudest form of functional implant. It pales in comparison to much more complex implants that interface directly with neurons, such as cochlear implants. As a point of clarification, my magnetic implants are more effective as a conceptual tool, rather than for real world use. The plans were more for the exploration of sensory experience than for a specific task that would increase my functional abilities.

BME: For those that aren’t familiar, could you tell us a bit about cochlear implants?


TODD: Cochlear implants are a medical device that bypasses damaged structures in the inner ear and directly stimulates the auditory nerve, allowing some deaf individuals to learn to hear and interpret sounds and speech.

My involvement with cochlear implant research was analyzing the electrophysiological brainstem response of implant patients with a particular disease, auditory neuropathy. I did this for a semester as an independent project, and the bulk of my time was spent in front of a computer working with numbers. However I did on several occasions assist in the data collection procedures, and talked with people who had cochlear implants. I was fascinated with the possibility of gaining a sense with technology that was forbidden by nature.

Fortunately I have all the senses normally accorded to a human being. Current medical devices are not capable of giving me additional sensory experiences. Steve Haworth, Jesse Jarrell, and I were discussing various implants, and Jesse mentioned a friend of his who got a steel sliver in his finger and could sense speaker magnets. Jesse and I had previously discussed implanting magnets, and the idea was born. I was highly motivated to get the implant because of the possibility to explore a new sensory modality.

BME: How did you refine the idea into something functional?


TODD: I spent several months researching magnetic implants. I was concerned the magnet would attract iron particles from degraded red blood cells and cause irritation in the surrounding tissue. A significant amount of research has been done by the medical field and my concerns were alleviated. After that Jesse and I ordered a batch of neodymium magnets from a supplier and played with size combinations. After determining the sizes and shapes of the desired implants, Jesse made several prototypes. Jesse and I tested the implants to make sure the coatings were sufficient, and Jesse made the implant that was actually implanted.

BME: How was the healing?


TODD: Healing was great. I had feeling back by the next morning, and full sensitivity back in a week. The scarring is minimal, and is not noticeable unless you are looking for it. The next day my finger felt like I had slammed it in a car door, but that is expected. There has been no prolonged discomfort.

BME: Is the implant visible?


TODD: Not visible at all. If someone palpates my fingertip and knows exactly where the implant is they can feel it. A friend of mine couldn’t find it until I pointed out the location.

The goal was to have it as unobtrusive and natural as possible. The reason for this was not to hide the implant from other people, but to hide it from myself. I want the sensation to seem as naturally endogenous as possible. I want the sensation to integrate as much as possible with the rest of my sensory experience.

BME: How does it feel to you in the absence of a magnetic field?


TODD: I feel nothing, just like any finger experiencing normal conditions. Humans ignore the majority of sensory experience, a necessity given the barrage of information thrown at us by reality.

BME: And when you move into a magnetic field, what does it feel like?


TODD: There are two distinct feelings I get from fields. For a static field, like a bar magnet, it feels like a smooth pressure. Imagine running your hand slowly through lukewarm water, and brushing your finger across the top of a large invisible marshmallow. That is the closest description I can give. Oscillating fields, such as electric motors, security devices, transformers, et cetera, vibrate the magnet. This sensation is much more sensitive and noticeable.

BME: How sensitive is? Can you tell the direction of a field?


TODD: The implant is rather sensitive. I can tell the polarity of a bar magnet from several inches away. So far the furthest I have felt an oscillating field has been about two and a half or three feet. That was the security system in a video store, which uses magnetic induction.

BME: You can “feel” for anti-theft devices? You’re getting all the super-villains excited!


TODD: All you would-be criminals don’t get your hopes up. I can only detect the active components of anti theft devices — those stands by the exits of stores. The actual component inside the item does not generate its own field. I just get a buzzing feeling when going through security systems.

BME: How “fine” a sense is it? Does it feel like a sense like sight or hearing, or more like a “sixth sense” in that it’s more of a “gut” or instinctual sense?


TODD: The feeling is rather fine. I can detect different frequencies in the magnetic fields. I haven’t done experiments yet to determine the sensitivity range, but I will in the near future. The sensation is rather intuitive, and exploring a magnetic field is not unlike trying to identify an object with your eyes closed.

BME: Does it feel like a sense in and of itself, or is it more of an “interface” between a sensory device and your nervous system?


TODD: The implant does not feel like an ‘alien’ artifact, it is much closer to a natural sense. When the sense is not active I don’t feel the implant and don’t really think about it. If the sensation were coming from an external source, it would feel much more like an interface object rather than an actual sensory experience.

BME: Will you expand this to your other fingers as well, or do you feel that wouldn’t add to the experience? I’m having visions of mechanics that will be able to run their fingers over an engine and diagnose problems because of imperfections in the magnetic fields.


TODD: I don’t think this type of implant will ultimately prove to be useful. However, my intentions were exploratory, and the case may be that this type of implant has many more uses. There are a few ideas I have that may involve adding more implants.

BME: Do you have plans to add other senses as well?


TODD: I would like to add as many senses as I possibly can. One area I am considering is using the implant, and others as needed, as a form of haptic feedback. Computer interaction is developing at a snail’s pace, whereas almost every other index of computer development is racing at exponential rates. Our main form of computer input — the keyboard — is over a hundred years old. Even the mouse is over thirty years old. Monitor technologies have progressed very slowly, and are fundamentally the same as they have always been. I don’t expect everyone to go out and get magnets implanted in their fingers, but as a society we need to think outside the box and devise new ways to interact with computers.

BME: Are you finding that it is having a functional impact on the way you perceive and interact with the world?


TODD: The implant has changed my perception of the world around me in a small but significant way. Information is constantly flowing around us, and we remain blissfully unaware of most of it. Having a tiny bit of that data stream pulled into your conscious awareness is a shocking experience. Functionally I have changed very little, but I am now more aware of what it is I don’t feel. There is an untold amount of information flowing around us that we don’t experience; my implant makes me think about this more.

BME: Did you do any psychological (or other) preparatory work before the implant?


TODD: Before the actual implant there were several months of planning and hypothesizing, and thus I was well prepared for the procedure and the implant. There were unexpected sensations, and some sensations were missing I thought would be noticeable. I can’t say I would recommend any particular preparation, as a person willing to put implants into themselves should be able to handle small changes in their sensory paradigm.

BME: Can I ask a little about your research work for Alcor, and how that relates to this implant?


TODD: Alcor and the body modification community have a lot in common. The classic members of both communities are individualists with strong personal identities. Neither group is afraid to push the envelope of what is accepted by the populace around them. Transhumanism is a philosophy that does not encompass all members of both communities, but I have noticed a significant level of overlap. I think this is the case because transhumanism as a philosophy encourages exploring boundaries and transforming yourself.

Alcor employs me as a Research Associate, and I am part of the research and development team. My main task is to research and evaluate methods of preserving and storing neural tissue. My research at Alcor is unique because no other organization is concerned with preserving tissue in the manner we are. The research is significant not only to cryonics, but a lot of our research has applications in other areas, such as organ transplantation and storage.

All of this ties together because ultimately I am interested in pushing the boundaries. Pushing boundaries is, in my opinion, the quintessential characteristic of humankind. An a priori acceptance of the status quo on the part of our ancestors would leave you and I as naked apes hiding in the trees, or more likely, extinct. Both cryonics and body modification are controversial and exciting, just like writing or forging metal or flying.

BME: How did you meet Steve and Jesse, and what made you decide to work with them, rather than working with a doctor or more traditional medical team?


TODD: Jesse I met at a Los Angeles Futurists meeting, where we were attending a talk by Syd Mead. Later I met Steve through Isa Gordan, an artist in the Phoenix area.

As Steve and Jesse became friends with me, we discussed body modification and my medical background, and Steve allowed me to observe several procedures. Steve’s protocols for infection control and cross contamination avoidance are on par with a hospital setting, and I felt confident in his technical abilities. In addition, there is a high level of artistic vision in implant work, which I do not think can be met by conventional medicine.

BME: So there were advantages to doing it without the constraints of the medical industry?


TODD: Steve and Jesse provide the professionalism and concern for safety provided by traditional medicine while incorporating artistic vision and skill. Doctors, even cosmetic surgeons, would have likely shied away from doing this type of implant work. The fear of the unknown would dissuade most doctors from assisting me in the project.

BME: Any advice for people considering adding this sense or others?


TODD: Exploring sensory experience is a fundamental quality of human beings, be it through implants or pharmaceuticals or technology. Before any experimentation you are obligated to yourself to perform thorough research into the subject, as it is very easy to harm yourself. Personal responsibility is even more important than experimentation.

Jesse’s own magnetic implants, for utility rather than sensation.
Photos courtesy of Steve Haworth and Jesse Jarrell.

Thank you to Todd for taking the time out to talk to us. If you’d like to contact him, you can do so via email at odd1 at If you are looking to have this procedure or one like it done yourself, contact Steve Haworth via

Shannon Larratt