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Galvani’s SparkThe Story of the Nerve Impulse$
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Alan McComas

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199751754

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199751754.001.0001

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(p.97) 7 The Code
Galvani’s Spark

Alan J. McComas

Oxford University Press

Returning from the war, Adrian continues where he and Lucas had left off. Using the capillary electrometer and Lucas’ mechanical device for correcting distortion, he demonstrates the true form of the nerve impulse and then investigates the refractoriness that briefly follows the impulse. With the aid of a valve amplifier he detects the spontaneous discharges of sensory nerve fibres as a muscle is stretched by its own weight. This chance observation leads him to study sensory receptors elsewhere and to conclude that information is transmitted to the brain in the form of trains of impulses, the impulses being identical in form but differing in frequency. Among other activities, Adrian shows that contracting muscles also employ a frequency code, and he and Bryan Matthews confirm Berger’s observation of electrical activity that can the recorded from the human brain with electrodes on the scalp (the “EEG”).

Keywords:   Edgar Adrian, Bryan Matthews, valve amplifier, capillary electrometer, stretch receptors, Alexander Forbes, EEG

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