CHAPEL HILL -- A husband-wife scientist team from Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have developed a computerized interactive learning tool that simulates laboratory experiments on nerve cells.
Stored on a CD-ROM, the new simulator opens a door into neurobiology education that allows students to duplicate experiments and extend them beyond what can be done in the laboratory. With its 17 tutorials organized into progressive levels of difficulty, it can be used selectively by undergraduate, graduate, or medical students. Unlike static images in textbooks, the simulator displays movies of changing voltage patterns at each point throughout a nerve cell.
"This offers students a natural way to envision what's happening to voltage or current patterns under an almost infinite variety of conditions," says Ann E. Stuart, Ph.D., professor of cell and molecular physiology at UNC School of Medicine in Chapel Hill. "It provides insight into nerve activity that's simply not possible with conventional text and figures or even with real experiments." According to Stuart, the idea for "Neurons in Action: Computer Simulations with NeuroLab," came from her husband John W. Moore, Ph.D., professor emeritus in the department of neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center.
At Duke about fifteen years ago, Moore and Michael L. Hines, Ph.D. (now at Yale) began writing NEURON, a research tool used today by computational neuroscientists worldwide to model nerve function. This professional tool employs the set of Hodgkin-Huxley equations formulated in the 1950s that describe the electrical signals generated in the nerve cell. Fifty years later these equations remain the reference standard for description of electrical activity in biological systems.
"My husband decided it would be wonderful to take NEURON, which is complex and designed for professionals, and harness its power in a set of tutorials as an educational tool," Stuart said.
Contact: Leslie Lang
University of North Carolina School of Medicine