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Psychology

The yellow represents the plasma membrane of the axon.

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When a nerve cell is stimulated, it triggers what is known as an action potential. An action potential is the change in electrical potential that propagates (travels) along the membrane of a nerve cell. This is how information moves through our nerves.
In this case study, you’ll be using a online simulation tool to investigate the changes that take place in a nerve cell during an action potential. Pay close attention to the locations and movement of ions, changes in electrical potential, and membrane proteins that are involved. You will then use this information to analyze a series of unusual cases.
Before you begin this case study, go to the following website: https://phet.colorado.edu/sims/html/neuron/latest/neuron_en.html. The image shown represents a cross-section of the nerve axon. (What’s a cross-section? Imagine laying a nerve cell lengthwise along an x-axis and slicing through it along the y-axis: that’s how you get a cross-section.) The yellow represents the plasma membrane of the axon. The myelin sheath is not shown here.
When you click “Stimulate Neuron,” you’ll notice a purple and yellow thing moving down the length of the axon: this represents the action potential. What you’ll be observing in this activity is what happens when the action potential reaches this cross-section of axon. You are not observing the entire nerve cell, just a tiny fraction of its membrane. The changes you observe here are what happen down the entire length of the neuron.
In the box labeled “show,” start by checking all of the boxes. This will allow you to see everything that is going on. Hit the “Stimulate Neuron” button on the lower right corner of the simulation to simulate an action potential. You can pause the simulation at any time, scroll back on the potential chart to rewind, zoom in/out, and speed up or slow down the animation.
Take several minutes to play around with this simulation and get comfortable with it. What happens when you check or uncheck boxes or click different buttons? You’re not going to break it, so go ahead and click everything. After you’re comfortable with the various settings, use the simulation to answer the questions within this case study.
Note: you’re going to need to zoom in and change the speed to really understand what’s happening as you work through these questions.

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