Watching a nerve cell squirm after an electric shock may sound cruel and unusual, but it actually reveals a lot about our own response to pain. This nerve-like cell, from a rat, is sitting on nanoribbons – microscopically thin pieces of metal (less than a tenth of a human hair in width) suspended like tightropes over a chasm. A small electrical charge is applied to the cell and sensitive computer equipment used to spot wobbles in the ribbons as the cell tenses. Measuring these minute twitches gives a glimpse into the mechanics of the neurons [nerve cells] in our nervous system. Temporary changes in shape or deflections may be essential for our neurons to convey their own electrical messages – possibly from a cut finger or a stubbed toe – to the brain in a fraction of a second.
Written by John Ankers
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