Sunday, 25 March 2012

Concentration is the key

by George Chapman

Behold, my favourite equation. This mathematical model is crucial to the operation, at any given second within our lives, of our most fascinating organ- the brain.

It is, however, an artwork in its own right.

Portrayed in chiaroscuro that even a film noir cinematographer would envy, a beautiful symmetry is established by the vinculum on the right hand side of the equation. The division of one summation by another similar summation succeeds in creating a mirror image, as it were.

In essence, the equation is used to determine the equilibrium potential across the plasma membrane of a neurone (or nerve cell), considering all monovalent ions to which the membrane is permeable- potassium, sodium and calcium. Amazingly, such a concept can be summarised by the ordered succession of symbols with which we are all familiar- the Western alphabet. Oh, the power of language indeed.

However, my fondness for this equation lies primarily in its encapsulation of a neurophysiological fundamental in its entirety, not to mention its representation of a biochemical mechanism required for life. All of a sudden, this 50-odd character expression appears rather succinct and economical.

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