Illustrating the Fundamentals of Neuroscience

aeffen | Cambridge, MA | October 14, 2019 | last updated November 11, 2019

MCB80.1x: The Electrical Properties of the Neuron

After the first successful run of the course on the edX platform in 2018-19, I spent the summer reviewing content and feedback to see how we could do better. One thing we noticed was that many students felt they were being thrown in the deep end with Lesson 1, because we assumed a high level of familiarity with electricity and electronics concepts. To help these students ease into the course, I wrote and illustrated a new lesson about the basics of voltage. I also assisted a fellow content developer in creating a new problem-solving section to practice manipulating the Nernst equation.

MCB80.3x: The Brain

In addition to working on MCB80.1x, I helped to overhaul the video content of MCB80.3x. In addition to making corrections to lesson text and transcripts, I worked closely with Rachel D'Erminio and Siobhan Landry to design new graphics and animations for 14 of the 50 lesson videos. You'll have to view the live course to see the majority of the new content!

Gravitational potential analogy of electrical potential

To introduce the concept of electrical potential and voltage to students who may not have strong physics backgrounds, we compare electrical potential energy to more familiar forms of potential energy, such as gravitational PE. Featured in MCB80.1x.

Balloon metaphor of capacitance

A metaphor for understanding membrane capacitance. When filling two balloons with water flowing at a constant rate, a stretchier balloon takes longer to reach its maximum pressure. In the context of the lesson, this is similar to a neuron with a higher capacitance (i.e. an unmyelinated axon).

Test charge movement according to an electric field

A simple visualization of test ions moving in space based on the electric field created by two charges. Featured in MCB80.1x.

The cortex of the human brain

A highlighted version of a human cerebral cortex illustration from Gray's Anatomy. Featured in MCB80.3x.

The vibrating basilar membrane of the cochlea, viewed as a cross section

An animated cross section of the cochlea, showing how hair cells move when the basilar membrane vibrates. Featured in MCB80.3x. Original cochlea drawing by Rachel D'Erminio.

Drawing of neuronal membrane

A drawing of a neuron, showing that the cell membrane is a continuous lipid bilayer that encloses all major structures: dendrites, soma, axon, terminal. Featured in MCB80.1x.