A Brief Introduction to Neurology
When you read or hear about the term neurology, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? For most it would likely be something that is extremely complex, something you need a degree to understand, something on par with Quantum Computing in complexity. But the thing is Neurology doesn’t need to be complex, anything is as complex as you make it to be. In fact your brain in convincing you that Neurology is complex it is effectively hindering its own study! Sure, more branches of sciences are expanding but at the end of the day we must remember that they’re to make our lives easier. With that thinking process making ourselves smarter through innovations in neurology directly makes our lives easier. That is why throughout this article I’m gonna break down neurology into simple terms and easily understood models, so anyone can understand it.
But before we learn anything at all you need to understand the importance of neurology. We may think that neurology is only for those who are mentally ill, and the odd scientist but that can not be further from the truth. As of recent neurology is subtly taking huge leaps. In 2013 both Europe and America announced massive projects dedicated to studying the human brain in order to develop and support future innovations.
If you are reading this you without a doubt have a brain, and the thing about brain innovation is that it is not discriminatory, the next innovation in neurology could greatly improve each one of our lives. And you can be sure that the individual who thinks of the innovation will enjoy a surplus of benefits (to put it lightly). Whether it would be making your brain a bit smarter, a bit faster and a bit more creative, the applications are literally limitless! After all, we say the future is all about artificial intelligence, cryptocurrency, block chaining but they each have their limitations, the intelligence of the humans behind it. But if we were to make all the people who study these areas just a little bit smarter, a bit faster and a bit more creative; we would quite literally (pardon the cliché) change everything as we know it. Neurology is what I like to call the root of all sciences, and in order for the plant (the other branches of science) to grow the root needs to grow to.
When talking about electricity I can say with confident that Frankenstein did get one thing right; electricity is critical to a proper functioning human body. However when we talk about electricity used to send signals through neurons (nerve cell that transfers information) we don’t refer to the electricity that you use to charge your phone, we are talking about Bioelectricity. Bioelectricity refers to electricity that happens within or produced by living organisms. Everything from the grass on the ground to us humans produce bioelectricity. But how did people realize electricity, was in humans did they plug in their phones into trees? Definitely not, bioelectricity was first discovered in Bologna, Italy during the 18th century by Luigi Galvani. Luigi Galvani was of all things dissecting a frog in 1771 when his assistant carelessly using a metal scalpel touched one of the nerves in the frog. Can you guess what happened? The frog moved. Or to be specific the frog’s leg moved. Because of the static charge buildup on the scalpel the electricity when in contact with the neuron caused the brief reanimation of the frog. Talk about an electrifying accident! Galvani true to his nature started hypothesising, believing he had found the key to life itself, an internal electricity which allows organisms to move. Galvani also decided to argue that there was an electric fluid that was the reason for this event. Galvani’s rival Alessandro Volta in effort to prove him wrong eventually created the very first battery. Proving that electricity can be created outside of the body. Galvani like most important and knowledgeable figures passed away poor and depressed. But his name lives on in the term Galvanism coined by none other than Volta himself. Galvanism refers to electricity produced by chemical action. Today we can see Galvani well not entirely correct was onto something. And we see him and Volta as critical members to the study of neurology.
In order to delve into some of the more advanced topics we first need to understand the basics, a simple neuron. The normal neuron has a variety of components a cell body or what we like to call soma. The soma houses the cell’s nucleus and different types of cellular machinery. Coming out of the cell picture below are “axons” and “dendrites”. And finally a “cell membrane” separates the inside of the cell from the outside. Cell membranes are a “a bilayer of lipid molecules that partition the inside of the cell from the outside”. Which means in plain English that a cell membrane is “ a film two molecules thick, made of fatty acids, or their derivative is non dissolvable in water, but dissolvable in organic solvents.
But at the moment let us just observe a small area of membrane located somewhere on the soma. This a multitude of important things happening in this little bit of membrane. This membrane is never neutral, even when it doesn’t function when you measure the electrical potential energy between the inside and outside of the membrane of a living neuron there is a important voltage which is appropriately named the “membrane potential”. This membrane potential is around negative 70 millivolts. When we talk about voltage in neurons they are in a way like the circuits that you may have learned in high school. And similar in high school circuits in order to find the number (negative 70 millivolts) we need to decide which two points we are measuring. In most cases this would be the outer membrane , which we like to call the “ground”. Different from high school circuits is how it generates electricity. It doesn’t generate electricity through chemical changes like batteries in circuits, instead it is made up of water and a lot of other stuff; ion, sugars and molecules, there are a multitude of charged ions and molecules throughout the cell, bicarbonate, phosphate, magnesium, sulfate, and many proteins.
And so with some regret I have decided to pause our lesson for the moment. As I approach what is likely the end of many peoples attention span I hope you have learned something from the brief article. And go out becoming well-informed individuals, who realize that neurology isn’t a complex as it seems. Until next time.