As a toddler I apparently had a habit of turning on and off light switches. As a toddler, I have a vague memory of going with my parents to visit a friends apartment (which means it was probably in New Haven) and turning on and off a switch, not immediately sure what it did. I’m not sure it turned on the light in a closet or in the room at the end of the hall, but it wasn’t immediately obvious to my 2-3 year old mind what it did. But I was committed to flipping it until I found out.
I’ve always had a curiosity about how things worked. For some, simply knowing “it works” or “this is how I do something” is good enough. And to be honest, I often apply that in my own life. But, I have a strong bias that understanding the fundamentals goes a long ways to improving ones ability to do their job. In the world of SQL Server for example, I know many programmers who know enough to write a select statement, but have no clue how that’s executed under the covers in SQL Server. And for them, that’s fine. But as a DBA I’ve always wanted to know more. It’s a reason why I’ve read books such as The Database Relational Model by CJ Date and others. I want to understand better how things work.
And so, I’m loving my current classes, especially Anatomy and Physiology I. We’re still in the introductory phase, but starting to dive deeper. Yesterday afternoon’s class for example we started to dive into things like Carrier Mediated Transport channels and chemically gated ion channels and more.
Did you know that the inner well of the plasma membrane of a cell is typically at a -70mV potential compared to the outside, and this is due mainly to the cells ability, nay, requirement to transport Na+ ions outside to the extracellular medium? Well now you do.
“But why would one care?” you might ask. Well, from this we get to the point where in certain cells, by properly manipulating this potential we can cause cells to contract and then un-contract (I hesitate to use the word expand here). And by doing that, when we have large groups of specialized cells, we have muscle fiber and with muscle fibers we can build muscles, such as the heart.
And this all starts with a miniscule voltage difference between the inside and outside of a cell.
Honestly, the more I learn about just the basics of how a typical cell works and the amount of chemical activity in it and across its plasma membrane, the more I sit back and just say “Wow, that’s just so incredibly cool.”
So yeah, I’m over a month in now and still loving it.