Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach @ FIX University Cultural Campus
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Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach

Roger Coke Barr

Nerves, the heart, and the brain are electrical. How do these things work? This course presents fundamental principles, described quantitatively.
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Bioelectricity Week 3 up and running

Bioelectricity Week 3 is up and running, with many students already having seen videos and completed quiz 3A. In week 3 people learn the answers to questions such as "In what way is giving a tiny stimulus to a membrane patch the same as waving a lighted match over a puddle of gasoline?" and "How are the membrane channels in your arm opening and closing in a way that is totally random yet fully funcitonal?"

The answers are experimentally repeatable and fully understandable. They are nonetheless completely shocking, when you reflect on them, and it's hard to believe that we all really work this way. But we do :)
Tue 9 Oct 2012 12:28:00 PM PDT

Bioelectricity Week 3 --- Raging Channels !

With the energy from pumps now available in electrical form, we shift our attention to how these voltages are used. The week begins with some observations about the response of a membrane patch to stimulation, a dramatically different response for passive tissue (follows along) as compared to active tissues (goes BOOM). Then the week continues with a description of channels opening and closing --- findings that I continue to find so surprising that they are still hard for me to believe. Welcome to week 3 !
Mon 8 Oct 2012 4:51:00 PM PDT

Worth reading --- Size of patches

When you have a moment, be sure to go to the Forum / Week 2 Lectures / On the sizes of patches. Please read through the items. Excellent and informative posts, better than my discussion in the videos. Thanks to all the people who posted in this thread.

"Patch" is a word like "windows" in that it is used with multiple meanings, sometimes co-mingled. Is a window something cut out of the wall of a house, or is it a box drawn on the screen? "Patch" is like that in bioelectricity. One's ability to sort out the meaning in a particular context depends not only on what is said or written but also on what the reader brings to the understanding.
Mon 8 Oct 2012 7:34:00 AM PDT

Worth a look

When you have a moment, look at the animation of a Na-K pump (Thanks Sunil). The link is under Week 2 lectures/ Animation of Na-K pump. It is directly related to Week 2.

More generally related is the video on how cells make energy that is used for things such as running the Na-K pump. Look at Jeff's post (Thank you!) under Week 2 Lectures / sodium potassium pumps for the link regarding ATP - ADP.

One of the nice things about being instructor is that I am also a student, enjoying these and other posts and learning many things new to me. The only caution I have about these videos are that you understand that the animation intends to show you events a the rate that is much slower than their speed in reality. As is necessary for many animations, the artists slow things down a lot, so that the viewer can have time to see events that otherwise happen too quickly to be visible. Putting that differently, Na-K pumps can snatch and move faster than cheetahs (smile).
Sat 6 Oct 2012 7:09:00 AM PDT

Duke Alumni

The Duke News office is interested in talking with any Duke alumni who are enrolled in Duke / Coursera / Bioelectricity, to learn more about your experiences. If you are a Duke alumnus and are willing to talk with the News office, please contact Cara Bonnett at, and mention that you are taking this course and that you would be interested in sharing your experiences with her.
Fri 5 Oct 2012 12:15:00 PM PDT

Solutions (?) for week 2 problem sessions

I thought you might want to know what I got if I worked out numerical answers to the questions asked in the two problem sessions for week 2. That is, not jut the plan, which is on the video, but the actual number answers. These values are posted under Hints & Kinks. Be sure to read the "important note" that follows. ,,rcb
Thu 4 Oct 2012 7:53:00 AM PDT


There is some discussion in the forum about some missing captions this week. I thought you might like to know how captioning works, for Bioelectricity. The Duke team makes the videos, then transfers them to Coursera well in advance of their coming to you. Coursera adds captioning. Captioning in English is a specialized, professional business, and I have heard that Coursera employs such specialists to make the first round of captions.

Once English-language captioning is complete, there is a transcript. Translators re-write the captions into other languages. As a student you can select which language to see. If the language you need is not there, and if you or others are willing to volunteer, Coursera will work with you to make captions in other languages available (click on their web link).

I think the captions are a great asset to Coursera courses and, recognizing that those registered for Bioelectricity come from over 100 countries, I am sure that many of you rely and enjoy the captioning service. ..rcb
Wed 3 Oct 2012 6:32:00 AM PDT

Duke / Coursera / Bioelectricity Starting Week 2

Today, October 1, marks the beginning of the second week of Bioelectricity. If you are going to be able to focus on the course for just one week, make it this week, Week 2. In this week you will learn how bioelectric systems generate and sustain voltages across the membrane. These voltages function similarly to dry-land batteries in that the voltages are the power sources for electrical circuits. Amazingly the voltage-producing mechanisms are not destroyed by their salt-water environment. Rather, they take advantage of it ! And, as we ourselves demonstrate, they don't fail after a day, a month, or a year --- they last a lifetime. If you do not already know where bioelectric voltages come from, now --- this week --- is your chance. The whole mystery will be unfolded, and by means of your imagination (smile) made visible.

If you are still working on Week 1 --- it is OK. You can continue to do so for another week :)

Mon 1 Oct 2012 7:45:00 AM PDT

Why does Bioelectricity"s week roll over when it does?

All my life that I can remember, weeks were given to me on a calendar. One week changed to the next according to when the calendar said it did. It was thus with great delight that I learned that Bioelectricity weeks would end whenever I said they would :) When I asked about the wisdom of various possibilities, people told me that many Coursera students often needed to ---or wanted to--- work on weekends, so it would be better if most students had a whole weekend at the end of each week. Also, it seemed like a good idea if the Bioelectricty week ended during "regular business hours" at Duke, where we are, in case there was some problem that came up during the transition. Putting these factors together, and also learning that the week would be specified to Coursera in Pacific time, the time in California, my choice was to end Bioelectricity's week at noon on Monday, Pacific time. Yes, I know that it does seem strange for a week to end in the middle of a day, and I realize that for most of us it means the week rolls over at a rather odd time, maybe even the wee hours of Tuesday. The good part is that you should have the whole weekend, wherever you are. ..rcb
Sun 30 Sep 2012 10:44:00 AM PDT

Hints & Kinks

"Hints & Kinks" is a new label recently added to the left column. It is a place where I will add additional information about the videos and quiz questions, a place for hints, comments, and background on why things are as they are, and a place to note connections you might not have noticed. Some items will be there in response to your comments and others because I thought you might want to know. For example, I started by talking about the quiz 1 questions. My intention is to make additions every week, so please check from time to time to see what you find there that is useful or interesting. ..rcb
Fri 28 Sep 2012 6:42:00 AM PDT

Scoring Plan

Please note that the details of the scoring plan are now available to you. They are given when you press the link "Scoring Plan" in the list on the left. Please read or review as needed. ..rcb
Fri 28 Sep 2012 6:20:00 AM PDT

Bioelectricity course -- Amazing Beginning, and Thank you to the Assistant Teachers

So far there have been thousands and thousands of you viewing videos, and thousands of responses to the quiz questions. There are still several days to go in Week 1 of Coursera/Duke/Bioelectricity, so I'm sure that many more people will stant the course during this latter half of the week.

To those of you who have done a lot already ==> great start.

To those of you who are beginning now or will soon ==> there is still plenty of time, and you will find an energetic group of colleagues and friends here.

Special thanks to each of you who reach out to others who are trying to do something for the first time or trying to answer a question but seeing it scored as incorrect. I think of you as our Assistant Teachers, and we need you. I know from personal experience how important it can be to do the one thing or answer the one question that is proving a stumbling block to someone.

I think you all have gotten the course off to a very good start. Thank you.


Thu 27 Sep 2012 8:05:00 AM PDT

Doing great, and 2 items to come.

You all are doing great! You have moved quickly into the videos and quizzes, more quickly and more intensely than I expected. I love the reading your comments on the discussion forums. I read all of them and enjoy --- or at least learn from -- every one, even though I mostly do not respond.

We are still finishing up some parts of the course organization, and I wanted you to know about two items that will be available to you soon. (1) The first is the scoring plan (how individual scores will be weighted and added). That's taken a little longer than expected because it has to be ok as to concept (me) and ok as to doing it (Coursera system). We will have it for you soon, and I think you will find that it is fine. (2) The second item soon to come is adding a section on "Hints & Kinks" where I will give some hints on the quiz questions, for those who would like them (hints), and identify places in the videos or questions where we discover small glitches (kinks). I'll put in there some notes on how one thing connects to another in ways you may have overlooked. There are a lot of strong but not-so-obvious connections :)

This course is an exciting adventure for me and no doubt for you too. I've taught courses for a long time, but never anything quite like this one :)

Wed 26 Sep 2012 5:49:00 AM PDT

Course Wiki now open & New Week 1 Slides!

Hello all,

The Course Wiki for Bioelectricity is now open, at the request of some students! Please note that information posted on the Course Wiki will not be curated or monitored for accuracy and correctness by Professor Barr or myself. Enjoy Wiki-ing!

Also, the Week 1 slides have now been updated to reflect the slides used in the lecture videos. Sorry for the confusion!

Tue 25 Sep 2012 6:13:00 AM PDT

Note on precision for quiz answers

For all quiz questions (in this week and others) requiring numerical answers, the required precision for full credit is +/- 1% of the correct exact answer. Hope this clears up everybody's questions!

-Zack (your trusty TA)
Mon 24 Sep 2012 2:59:00 PM PDT

Welcome to Bioelectricity Week 1

Welcome to Bioelectricity Week 1, the first week of this eight-week course. This first week brings some exciting topics such as what happens when you throw your computer in the ocean (smile), and also some fundamentals on the rules of electricity in solutions. Please keep your thoughtful imagination with you at all times. Together we will liberate this fascinating subject from the box in the closet where it has been kept hidden away for the last 200 years :)

The normal sequence of things to do this week is to watch the week's videos and then to answer the week's questions. You are free however to do videos and questions in any order or to go back and forth. You can do the quiz more than one time, and if you do the highest score is the only one that counts. It is up to you to find what works best for the way you think and for your study style. You will, however, get far more from this course by working on the questions than if you simply listen to the lectures. Somehow it is when you try to answer questions that you really engage your brain :)

Please begin this first week of the course by clicking on "Start Here!" near the top in the menu in the column on the left. There you will see step by step instructions telling you what to do next.

Thank you for enrolling. This course will be an adventure, intriguing and productive. Once again, welcome! Let's get started.
Fri 21 Sep 2012 6:19:00 PM PDT

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