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Need help Can anyone tell me ways physics is related to the brain?

  1. Oct 8, 2012 #1
    I was told I could do a directed study of my own choosing because of some projects I did last year that went over very well.

    My area of interest besides physics is neuroscience.

    My education is mainly Physics, but I have been working with some people in the neuroscience lab (who all don't have interest in physics) and I was wondering if someone can give me some suggestions on ways I can use physics to do research on anything big or small related to the brain?

    In what ways can I use my knowledge(and continued knowledge) of Physics to conduct research on the brain in any contexts.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 8, 2012 #2


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    What area of physics are you studying/familiar with?
  4. Oct 8, 2012 #3
    Particle physics...(stronger and stronger knowledge of quantum theory) But of course I have a general understand of lots of types of physics that the people in neuroscience all lack. (or well I think they do since physics is never brought into their research at all)
  5. Oct 8, 2012 #4


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    Hmm, that's a tough one. You may want to ask in the Biology or Medical Sciences subforum.
  6. Oct 8, 2012 #5


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    Hi nukeman,

    I have no background in neuroscience. If I was in your position

    1. I would want to learn the exact mechanisms of the brain’s perception, attention, learning and memory, emotions, symbolic representation, decision-making, reasoning, problem solving, and consciousness.

    2. I would try to conceive new, non-invasive methods for studying brains to learn these mechanisms. Already researchers use electroencephalography, positron emission tomography, functional magnetic resonance imaging, magneto-encephalography and trans-cranial magnetic stimulation.

    3. I would try to devise new schemes to measure the brain’s electrochemical signals such as receptor potentials, synaptic potentials, and action potentials to understand cognitive functions.

    4. I would try to apply computer modeling and computer simulations of selected brain functions, such as language learning. The creation of innovative algorithms for neural networks that would represent real brain functions could contribute greatly to our knowledge.

    5. Finally, I would think a about how I might contribute to this new area of study:

    “Cultural neuroscience is the study of how cultural values, practices and beliefs shape and are shaped by the mind, brain and genes across multiple timescales.[1] The study of cultural neuroscience bridges theory and methods from anthropology, psychology, neuroscience and genetics. Cultural neuroscientists study cultural variation in mental, neural and genomic processes as a means of articulating the bidirectional relationship of these processes and their emergent properties using a variety of methods. Researchers in cultural neuroscience [2][3][4] are motivated by two fundamentally intriguing, yet still unanswered, questions on the origins of human nature and human diversity: how do cultural traits (e.g., values, beliefs, practices) shape neurobiology (e.g., genetic and neural processes) and behavior and how do neurobiological mechanisms (e.g., genetic and neural processes) facilitate the emergence and transmission of cultural traits?”

  7. Oct 8, 2012 #6


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    You might be interested in the human brain project and related projects like FACETS and the Blue Brain project. They all have major contributions from physicists (the FACETS coordinator was a particle physicist!), and try to model brain structures with electronic hardware.
  8. Oct 31, 2012 #7
    you could read some books related to theoretical neuroscience, such as the one by Peter Dayan , to get a feel of the subject . But I feel as a physicist you will be disappointed at the lack of "theory" in neuroscience at present. there are a lot of " models " which have been proposed , but they cannot be generalized usually .
  9. Oct 31, 2012 #8
    A lot of people would like to know the connection between physics, brain function, and consciousness. As far as I can tell, apart from the operation of the neuron, not a lot is known about these connections. If you want to read some really different hypothetical stuff, have a look at Penrose and Hameroff. They have some interesting ideas about the connection between quantum mechanics and neural activity.
  10. Oct 31, 2012 #9
    Maybe you should concentrate on myelin sheath, the fatty covering over some neurons. Maybe with your physics background you can calculate exactly how much faster this transmission is. Maybe with a particle physics background you can analyze exactly why some ions are involved like sodium, if I remember correctly, and why others are not.
  11. Nov 3, 2012 #10
    I'm probably not adding anything "new", but the first thing I think of is electricity and neuro-transmitters. Going along with the ion channels and how the transmision or firing is working with the ion channels, calcium, sodium and magnesium I think. I have a vegus nerve stimulator for my brain, due to epilepsy. It sends a small current to my brain to control random firing and prevent seizures. I hope you post your findings because this is a interesting subject to me.
  12. Nov 3, 2012 #11
    That is quite interesting. I have been thinking of doing some type of research with the stimulation of the vagus nerve. I think very interesting studies can be done, as it has already shown some great research (epilepsy, depression, etc)

  13. Nov 3, 2012 #12
    the vagus nerve itself is an interesting study because it ventures throughout the body in such obscure ways. In my case it connects in my neck and when it fires, every three min, the current affects my vocal chords and changes my voice for 30 s. Always at the wrong time too. For example, I will answer the phone right as it goes off and am asked if I just woke up. Sometimes I feel it in my stomach or my chest, but I can't directly feel it affecting my brain. Has helped with seizures tho and noticed an immediate effect on depression. After brain surgery on the limbic system moods kinda went crazy, so I noticed the change after the VNS (vagus nerve stimulater), needless to say I also lost alot of memory of physics after the surgery.
    If you do research I would be interested in your results.
    is refraction defined as theta sine theta or is that a different definition?
  14. Nov 3, 2012 #13
    I've been told there is an area of the brain with synaptic connection that actually join the ectoplasm of the neurons. That enables electrical potentials to travel immediately from one neuron to the next. Signals travel at near light speed, as opposed to the speed of sound. Try to find out about that. I cannot swear that it is the case, but I got it on pretty good authority. The man was a brain researcher at NIH.

    Study physical chemistry and bio-physics, in the long term.
  15. Nov 4, 2012 #14


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    Neurons are not electric circuits - signals in the brain are several orders of magnitude slower.
  16. Nov 4, 2012 #15
    Please read what I posted. I am well aware of how neurotransmitters work. What I am talking about are signals that are not mediated by transmitters across the synaptic cleft. The cells are actually joined together with the synapses forming tubes between the cells.

    I recall reading about this years ago, but I don't recall where. I had the idea affirmed by a neuroscientist doing brain research at NIH. Unfortunately I cannot cite a source at this time.

    I did, however, just find this:


    A sheath of fatty tissue that covers most axons on the nervous system. It serves to speed conduction my(sic) limiting true action potentials to the gaps in the sheath. Under the myelin the neural impulse moves at the speed of light. The layer is formed by Schwann Cells in the periphereral nervous system and Oligodendrocytes in the central nervous system."

    That statement is probably inaccurate to the extent that the signals almost certainly move somewhat slower than light. Nonetheless, neurotransmission via the "domino" process moves at about the speed of sound, so the difference is extraordinary.
  17. Nov 4, 2012 #16


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    I did, and formulated my post ("signals in the brain") very general accordingly.
    The propagation of electric fields happens at the speed of light, but I would not call this "neural impulse". The time difference between "active at point x" and "active at point x+delta x" is way slower than light.
  18. Nov 4, 2012 #17
    I've discovered some interesting things that might be worthy of a physicists attention. One of them are the so-called "Electrical Synapses".


    "Electrical Synapses
    Synapses that transmit information via the direct flow of electrical current at gap junctions are called Electrical Synapses. The membranes of the presynaptic and postsynaptic cleft are held together by paired channels in each membrane that form a Gap Junction. Ions passively flow through these pores or channels from the presynaptic to the postsynaptic channels thereby allowing the ionic current to influence the postsynaptic potential. Electrical synapse transmission has two interesting factors. Due to the size of the gap junction channels, ions are not the only substance capable of passing through them and a bidirectional flow of material is possible. The second is the speed with which electrical synapses convey information. Passive flow of ions through channels is nearly instantaneous allowing immediate response to stimulus. Electrical synapses are best adapted for regulating rhythmic or synchronized electrical activity for activities like breathing."


    Another topic is: "Multifaceted roles of tunneling nanotubes in intercellular communication"

  19. Nov 4, 2012 #18

    Microtubule ionic conduction and its implications for higher cognitive functions.

    "The neuronal cytoskeleton has been hypothesized to play a role in higher cognitive functions including learning, memory and consciousness. Experimental evidence suggests that both microtubules and actin filaments act as biological electrical wires that can transmit and amplify electric signals via the flow of condensed ion clouds. The potential transmission of electrical signals via the cytoskeleton is of extreme importance to the electrical activity of neurons in general. In this regard, the unique structure, geometry and electrostatics of microtubules are discussed with the expected impact on their specific functions within the neuron. Electric circuit models of ionic flow along microtubules are discussed in the context of experimental data, and the specific importance of both the tubulin C-terminal tail regions, and the nano-pore openings lining the microtubule wall is elucidated. Overall, these recent results suggest that ions, condensed around the surface of the major filaments of the cytoskeleton, flow along and through microtubules in the presence of potential differences, thus acting as transmission lines propagating intracellular signals in a given cell. The significance of this conductance to the functioning of the electrically active neuron, and to higher cognitive function is also discussed."
  20. Nov 4, 2012 #19
    Well...i don't know whether this is 100% correct(or correct at all).
    We can compare how people think with relativity.
    What i meant by relativity is, our laws of physics are on a specific foundation.We see the world around us from the point of view those laws.We reject certain results come across through these laws, because there are weaknesses in them.
    If we can build up a new foundation we might be able to see things in a different manner.
    These then become 2 worlds.Same phenomenon can be seen completely different to 2 observers in these 2 worlds.
    So does human mind.Some people see things different to the way the others do because of they are looking through a different looking glass.
    That's why there are different people in this world.
  21. Nov 5, 2012 #20


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    This is what science is actively doing, finding new laws of nature. Trying to figure out how things work that have not been, as of the present, figured out yet.
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