What is Neurosim?
Neurosim simulates neural activity at the cellular and small systems level. It works “off-the-shelf” and requires no programming or specialist computer know-how. Its specific purpose is to help tutors to teach, and students to understand, cellular neurophysiology. It is aimed at the undergraduate and graduate student level, but it may also provide entertainment, and perhaps some useful insights, for experienced neurophysiologists.
Neurosim is a desktop program that runs under Windows 10. System administrators can also deliver it by streaming using programs like AppsAnywhere.
- Provides realistic simulations for cellular and small-network electrophysiology.
- Easy to use, no programming knowledge required.
- Intuitive, configurable interface.
- Enables simulations appropriate for multiple levels, from 1st year college to post-graduate.
- Can be used to reinforce core concepts, and to set challenges and puzzles that give users experience in experimental design, data analysis, and problem solving.
- Can simulate at multiple biological levels, including passive properties, individual ion channels, individual neurons, compartmental models of neurons and networks of neurons.
- Neurons can be integrate-and-fire and/or have full Hodgkin-Huxley formalism containing multiple ion channels with user-specified kinetics.
- Intracellular calcium concentration and calcium-dependent channels can be modelled.
- Any number of neurons can be linked with any number of synaptic connections to form a network circuit.
- Synapses can be chemical or electrical.
- Chemical synapses have fully configurable properties including conductance, equilibrium potential, facilitation, Hebbian properties and voltage-dependency.
- Electrical synapses can be non-rectifying or rectifying.
- Designed for teaching, but also a useful research-level ideas factory.
What's New in Version 5?: List of key changes from version 4.
Value to Students
The key design aim is usability. Most students can dive straight in and concentrate on the science, rather than struggling with managing the program itself. Neurosim has been used for many years by students in the author’s own classes, and a lot of teaching experience has gone into making the program as student-friendly and accessible as possible.
The key pedagogic aim is to increase active learning. Neurosim shares many of the benefits of real laboratory experiments, but as a simulation tool it also enables students to see "under the hood" and investigate the underlying mechanisms of the experiments they are running. By encouraging students to ask "what if" questions, it can reinforce and consolidate understanding of many of the key principles and concepts that underlie cellular electrophysiology. It is an excellent tool for independent learning after core principles have been established by standard classroom and text book methods.
Value to Tutors
Neurosim can be a major supplement to, and partial replacement of, real laboratory experiments. It enables students to perform experiments that would be far beyond the capabilities of a normal teaching laboratory, at nominal cost and with zero animal use. As well as helping students understand fundamental principles, this can give valuable practice in designing experiments, and interpreting and analysing realistic neurophysiological data. Tutors can also generate data for use in group discussions or problem-solving exercises, in situations where student access to computers is restricted. Neurosim can be used as a visual aid during classroom teaching, to present dynamical events that cannot be adequately illustrated with conventional techniques.
Neurosim has a highly configurable user interface, so tutors can set up experiments that only expose students to details relevant to a particular learning objective. Tutors can also hide and password-protect specific parameters, so students can be set the challenge of discovering them by experiment.
Neurosim Modules: A brief description of the 6 modules contained in Neurosim.
Suggested Use: Some ideas about how Neurosim can be used.
Gallery: Screenshots of Neurosim in action.
Common 'How To' Tasks: How to accomplish some common tasks when using Neurosim.
Walk-through: Step-by-step guides for setting up simulations in Neurosim.
Classroom activity: A ready-to-use set of 3 virtual laboratory activities, covering action potentials, synapses and neural oscillators. Total time approximately 4 hours (recommended as two 2-hour sessions).
Tutorial Exercises and Demonstrations: A more extensive set of programmed activities covering :
- The passive properties of neurons
- The generation and propagation of action potentials.
- Networks of neurons
- Kinetics of single ion channels.
What's New?: List of changes with each version.
About the Author
Dr Bill Heitler recently retired from a full-time academic position at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, and is now an honorary Reader in the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at that university. He has many years of teaching experience, and has researched and published extensively in invertebrate simple-systems and cellular neuroscience.
This work has benefited enormously from the experience the author gained at the University of St Andrews. However, the university is not responsible in any way for the contents of the program or the documentation that accompanies it.
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