An unsound theory

Scientists say nerves use sound, not electricity

The common view that nerves transmit impulses through electricity is wrong and they really transmit sound, according to a team of Danish scientists.

The Copenhagen University researchers argue that biology and medical textbooks that say nerves relay electrical impulses from the brain to the rest of the body are incorrect.

“For us as physicists, this cannot be the explanation,” said Thomas Heimburg, an associate professor at the university’s Niels Bohr Institute. “The physical laws of thermodynamics tell us that electrical impulses must produce heat as they travel along the nerve, but experiments find that no such heat is produced.”

Hmm. I’m not buying it. Too many lectures involving micro-electrodes measuring electrical nerve impulses, and all that.

And, what about local anesthetics? Are they just sound-deadening?

The scientists, whose work is in the Biophysical Society’s Biophysical Journal, suggested that anesthetics change the melting point of the membrane and make it impossible for their theorized sound pulses to propagate.

So, anyone have a vacuum chamber and a nerve? Me, I’m sticking with the whole saltatory-conduction thing.


  1. I just need to know which version of nerve impulses will be on the MCAT…

    From article:
    “a medium with the right physical properties could create a special kind of sound pulse or “soliton” that can propagate without spreading or losing strength.”

    What does the axon do to prevent sound from traveling backwards? How does the body start this sound impulse? And should a human body be immersed into a loud environment, could the environment affect nerve impulses?

    Death by John Tesh music really is possible!

    I found another article that goes into slightly more detail.

  2. Bad Shift says:

    I would think, then, that you would be able to ‘hear’ the giant squid axon of lore with a micro-vibration detector. I’ll wait for the experiments, but this sounds quacky.

  3. Bad Shift says:

    Besides, ‘soliton’ sounds like an 80’s hair band.

  4. It doesn’t travel down the axon like electrons down a wire. That’s why nerve impulses travel so much more slowly.

    And it’s not like all these chemical reactions don’t create waste heat. Any living organism is giving off waste heat like crazy.

  5. Oh dear.
    I suppose that means we need to toss out a lot of data about sodium and potassium channels. Like it or not, you physicists, there is an electromagnetic wave travelling down the nerve, triggering the sequential opening of channels. This is not an energy-free proposition, since a lot of energy is directed to allowing the channels to do their work, and setting up the ion gradients waiting to be triggered by the electromagnetic wave.

  6. This provides a better explanation for the ‘fingernails-on-chalkboard’ phenomena than all the daffy ‘just makes sense’ electromagnets!