But beyond his professional ambition, it's the medical and therapeutic potential of neural chips that has most inspired Berger's singular vision. A machine able to revitalize memory cells would change the lives of millions of Americans who suffer from brain disease, and offer relief to the families that care for them. In 1999, that possibility became personally significant for Berger. At a time when he was keynoting conferences around the world, his mother suffered a stroke and developed strange neurological symptoms typical of hippocampal damage. "She didn't speak, but she could laugh and sing," recalls Berger, who grew up in Poughkeepsie, New York, the son of an electrical-engineer father. His mother's illness and resulting death in 2005 had a profound and grounding influence on his work. "It suddenly made my research more than just a cool laboratory problem to solve," Berger says. "Instead of just thinking about [the brain chip] as solving one of the great puzzles of neuroscience, I now think mostly in terms of increasing the quality of life for stroke, epilepsy and dementia patients."