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Experimental painting - electricity
Experimental painting resembling electricity

Nerve cells may not work as we thought

Sometimes  in science what you thought was a complete description of a phenomenon suddenly turns out to be quite different from what you thought it was. Professor Thomas Heimburg, physicist and leader of a research group at the Niels Bohr Institute, works with a model for how nerves work, which turns upside down the common understanding of nerve signals.

Although Professor Thomas Heimburg's  new model meets resistance in scientific circles, it does, however, have some advantages that make it more than interesting:

  • It explains how anesthetics work on nerve cells.
  • It provides a good explanation of why the brain does not overheat with energy from the many electrical nerve impulses it receives.
  • It gives a good explanation of why nerve impulses move with the speed of sound, and not the speed that would otherwise be thought of in an electrical impulse.

If Professor Thomas Heimburg is right about his new explanation of nerve signals, then the textbooks must be rewritten, and perhaps it will be possible to treat pain in a whole new way than what one does with traditional medical treatment. However, Neuroscientist Rune Berg's research group from the Panum Institute disagrees, but no one has been able to prove who is right. Listen to the interview with Rune Berg on "Alle celler i kroppen er elektriske" before this story with Professor Thomas Heimburg (in Danish).

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Science Stories is supported by the Novo Nordisk Foundation.