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Harvard University

Fundamentals of Neuroscience, Part 1: The Electrical Properties of the Neuron

Harvard University via edX


Fundamentals of Neuroscience is a three-courseseries that explores the structure and function of the nervous system—from the inner workings of a single nerve cell to the staggering complexity of the brain and the social interactions they enable.

In this first course, you'll learn how individual neurons use electricity to transmit information. You'll build a neuron, piece by piece, using interactive simulations, then travel around Harvard's campus, where you'll see the inner workings of a lab and learn how to conduct DIY neuroscience experiments on your own.

Join us as we study the electrical properties in individual neurons, building a foundation for understanding the function of the entire nervous system.


Lesson1: The Resting Potential
The nervous system functions by sending electrical signals between neurons. To begin our study of the nervous system, we will focus on a single neuron 'at rest,' which has an electrical potential across its membrane. We will understand the ionic basis underlying this electrical potential, and how to calculate it ourselves.

Lesson 2: Passive Membrane Properties
Electrical signals between neurons can be sent through changes in their membrane potentials. In order to more deeply understand these electrical signals, we will first study the electrical properties of the neuron itself. We will examine the resistive and capacitive properties of the neuron, how these properties arise from biological factors, and how these properties influence how a neuron responds to electrical signals.

Lesson3: Action Potentials
In this lesson we will investigate one of the fundamental ways that neurons send electrical signals, through an all-or-nothing process called the action potential. The action potential is generated by the precise opening and closing of voltage-gated channels that cause specific changes to the neuron's membrane potential. We'll develop an in-depth understanding of the mechanisms of these channels and the ionic currents behind the action potential.

Lesson 4: Action Potential Propagation
Neurons send electrical signals through action potentials moving down their axons. In order to further develop our understanding of the way neurons generate and send electrical signals, we will integrate our knowledge of the electrical properties of the neuron and the action potential itself. This will allos us to understand how the nervous system has solved the problem of fast and reliable communication.

Lesson 5: DIY Labs
Seeing or measuring something with your own hands is often the best way to learn! We've spent a lot of time discussing the electrical properties of neurons, and along the way you've seen many different demonstrations. You can perform some of these experiments, as well as others we haven't shown yet, yourself, using an inexpensive piece of equipment known as a SpikerBox.

Taught by

David Cox


4.8 rating, based on 22 Class Central reviews

4.7 rating at edX based on 99 ratings

Start your review of Fundamentals of Neuroscience, Part 1: The Electrical Properties of the Neuron

  • Profile image for Daniel Reid
    Daniel Reid
    I started this course with no prior knowledge in physics, biochemistry or bioelectricity, so the mathematics in this course was difficult to comprehend. But maths aside, this course was very informative, i have learnt so much in this course in the functions of a neuron, and it refreshed my knowledge of science. This course will greatly help me with my passion in mental health and understanding the workings of the brain when affected by substances and damage. I will continue this course right through part 2 and part 3.
  • Bob
    Material & topic seemed interesting. Kind of silly way of presenting it, in my opinion, but quality of the videos was frankly good. Instructor tried to be funny too hard. I dropped; too much posh design & annoying music as background distraction for me in a neuroscience course. I know some other peers were thirlled by the course. Not me; I guess is one of those you have to try by yourself to see where you stand.
  • Profile image for Juan Leopoldo Balsevich
    Juan Leopoldo Balsevich
    Great course! I found the learning strategies very good. Including a bit of cartoon characters and good sense of humour to help digesting arid maths and biochemistry. Great videos! Plenty of them. Museum and Lab tours. Brain operations. Just loved t…
  • Tushar Ranjan Mishra
    Neuroscience is a vital part of human being. Neuroscience is the greatest mechanism by which a human body runs from birth to death. There are different parts in human brain which regulates the day to day activities of a person. If we go to the fundamental chapter we can find out different nerves like optic nerve, cranial nerve which maintain different parts of human body.. Hind brain, mid brain, neurons, hypothalamus etc work perfectly in normal body. Many nerves attached to brain. If any problem arises such as poly neuropathy, diabetic neuropathy, Parkinson's disease the human being becomes very problematic. So study of Neuroscience and it's fundamentals one can easily grasp a good knowledge about brain.
  • Steph
    I really enjoyed this course! Typically I stick more to psychology, animal behaviour, plants and fungi courses, but I got interested in neuroscience as I am really into mushrooms and found it interesting that mycellial mats form the same structure as neurons, also I am recently diagnosed autistic so learning about how the brain works, and how mine differs is very interesting. I don't have a math or physics background at all, so was worried that this course would be too difficult for me, especially as it came from Harvard. But it wasn't too difficult at all. I finished the course in two weeks, and I will most definitely be taking parts 2 and 3 as well.
  • Sadia Afrin
    such a helpful course I highly recommend the course for anyone looking to elevate their skills. The comprehensive content, practical exercises, knowledgeable instructors, and flexible learning options make it a worthwhile investment for anyone seeking to excel in the field.
  • I audited this course last year and its follow-on course on action potentials etc and completed both in full. These have been the most interesting MOOC courses I have done . It can be demanding depending on your background, but these are excellent courses. I recommend them particulary for those people who think (erroneously) that the brain is like a computer. (I am a computer systems developer...)
  • Anonymous
    This course was fun, interesting, and personally I found few parts that were challenging. I completed this course in 16 days exam included. Now I'm taking neuroscience part 2.
  • I want to understand thé mechanisme of humain cells because i'm verry patient for neurosciences and because of that i'm here
  • Profile image for Tatiana Lopes
    Tatiana Lopes
    Procuro por conhecimento mais e mais, e ainda existir uma pequena curiosidade sobre o nosso corpo e quero aprender sobre ele..

  • Profile image for MAYSA FURTADO LIRA
    Bom tem que gostar e ser esforçado para quer aprender e conhecer gosto desse é estudo é acho maravilhoso que possamos aprender desta forma.
  • Anonymous
    É um ótimo curso pos acompanha a cituaçã sociocultural atual do planeta.

    O penssamento é universal as formas de (falar que são diferenciadas) no planete existe somente 4 a 5 formas arquétipas
  • QZ
    Curso otimo para que esta inicuando faculdade de biomedicina, muito importante para adaptacao e introducao
  • Martina Ribas
  • Aarush Mohit Mittal

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