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A Model for Understanding Membrane Potential Using Springs

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Description Presentation of a simple model using springs to conceptualize the relationship between ionic conductances across a cellular membrane and their effect on membrane potential
Type of Resource Assignment/Activity (Non-Laboratory/Non-Hands on Activity), Journal Article/Issue
Format Web Page - HTM
David Cardozo, Harvard Medical School
Development Date December 1, 2005
Grade/Age Levels High School upper division (Grades 11-12)
Undergraduate lower division (Grades 13-14)
Undergraduate upper division (Grades 15-16)
Professional (degree program)
Medical Objective
in Physiology
Biological membranes, solutes and solutions
Learning Time <=1 hour
Language English
Type of Review Reviewed By Journal Board
Review Date Reviewed at time of publication
Suggested Use

This article/resource presents an excellent resource for modeling nernst equilibria and membrane potentials.  These two concepts can be challenging concepts for students at all levels to visualize.  Although formulas sucha the Nernst equation and GHK equation can be effective ways to introduce such conepts students often struggle to see how the conductance of two ions (ie Na and K) work in tandem to establsih a membrane potential for a cell.  This "spring" model offers an excellent classroom model to build from equilibrium potential to membrane potential and ultimately to regulation of membrane potential by changing conductances.

The use of an membrane analogue circuit in the articel may be most applicable to college level students while the model itself seems applicable to nearly any learning level.

Matt Kreitzer, Indiana Wesleyan University


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