Monday, December 10, 2018

Episode 450 (12-10-18): Neurons, Ions, and Water, Featuring “Pack of Neurons” by Bob Gramann

Click to listen to episode (4:08).

Sections below are the following:
Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments
Extra Facts about the Nervous System
Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.)

Except as otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 12-7-18.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of December 10, 2018.

MUSIC – ~ 11 sec

This week, in a revised version of a December 2011 episode, that music sets the stage for describing some biochemical and electro-chemical aspects of the water-based environment inside of us.  Have a listen for about 45 more seconds.

MUSIC – ~47 sec

You’ve been listening to part of “Pack of Neurons,” by Bob Gramann of Fredericksburg, Va., on his 2008 album, “Mostly Live.”  According to Mr. Gramann, the title “Pack of Neurons” was inspired by the use of that phrase in The Astonishing Hypothesis, a 1994 book by Francis Crick on human consciousness.   Dr. Crick shared the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins for their discoveries of the structure of the DNA molecule.

Mr. Gramann’s song is a light-hearted look at the fundamental role of neurons, or nerve cells, in transmitting the electrical impulses that control humans’ mental and physical processes.  Those nerve impulses are transmitted along neurons by changes in the concentration of electrically-charged atoms of sodium and potassium. Water is vital as the solvent for those charged atoms, known as ions.  And not just in neurons, but in all biological cells, a water-based solution is the medium in which biochemical substances exist and react. In words from 1970 by famous chemist Linus Pauling,  “One of the most striking properties of water is its ability to dissolve many substances,” and “solutions are very important kinds of matter—important for industry and for life.”

Thanks to Bob Gramann for permission to use this week’s music, and we close with about 15 more seconds of “Pack of Neurons.”

MUSIC – ~ 15 sec


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Ben Cosgrove for his version of “Shenandoah” to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


This Virginia Water Radio episode revises and replaces Episode 93, 12-19-11.

“Pack of Neurons,” from the 2008 album “Mostly Live,” is copyright by Bob Gramann, used with permission.  Bob Gramann’s Web site is

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (2 min./22 sec.) of the “Shenandoah” arrangement/performance by Ben Cosgrove that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Cosgrove is available online at


Diagram of a neuron. Image from the National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute, “SEER Training Modules: Introduction to the Nervous System—Nerve Tissue,” online at


The following information is quoted from National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute, “SEER Training Modules: Review: Introduction to the Nervous System,” online at, as of 12/7/18.

*The nervous system is the major controlling, regulatory, and communicating system in the body. It is the center of all mental activity including thought, learning, and memory.

*The various activities of the nervous system can be grouped together as three general, overlapping functions: sensory, integrative, and motor.

*Neurons are the nerve cells that transmit impulses.  Supporting cells are neuroglia.

*The three components of a neuron are a cell body or soma, one or more afferent processes called dendrites, and a single efferent process called an axon.

*The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord.  Cranial nerves, spinal nerves, and ganglia make up the peripheral nervous system.

*The afferent division of the peripheral nervous system carries impulses to the CNS; the efferent division carries impulses away from the CNS.

*There are three layers of meninges around the brain and spinal cord.  The outer layer is dura mater, the middle layer is arachnoid, and the innermost layer is pia mater.

*The spinal cord functions as a conduction pathway and as a reflex center.  Sensory impulses travel to the brain on ascending tracts in the cord. Motor impulses travel on descending tracts.


Used for Audio

Stewart W. Holmes, “You are Nothing but a Pack of Neurons,” ETC: A Review of General Semantics, Vol. 51, No. 4 (Winter 1994-95), pages 406-412, accessed online at (subscription may be needed for access).

Nobel Media AB, “The discovery of the molecular structure of DNA—the double helix,” Sept. 30, 2003, online at

Linus Pauling, General Chemistry, Dover Publications, New York, N.Y, 1970).  The quotations used in this episode are found on page 447.

Publishers Weekly, “Review of The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul, by Francis Crick,” Jan. 3, 1994, online at

University of Bristol (England), School of Medical Sciences, “Brain Basics: The Fundamentals of Neuroscience,” online at

Scott K. Powers and Edward T. Howley, Exercise Physiology: Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance, 8th Edition, McGraw-Hill, New York, N.Y., 2012.  See particularly pages 142-148, “Organization of the Nervous System.”

For More Information about the Human Nervous System

Eric Cudler, “Neuroscience for Kids,” online at

National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute, “SEER Training Modules: Introduction to the Nervous System,” online at


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (  See particularly the “Science” subject category.

Following are links to other episodes related to water and the human body.

Episode 259, 3/30/15 – on Virginia college student research on avian malaria.
Episode 278, 8/17/15 – on bioluminescence, including its use in cancer research.
Episode 287, 10/26/15 – on the human skeletal system.
Episode 290, 11/16/15 – on Virginia college student research on antibiotic resistance.
Episode 392, 10/30/17 – on the human circulatory system.
Episode 393, 11/6/17 – on influenze.


The episode—the audio, extra information, or sources—may help with the following Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs).

2013 Music SOLs
SOLsat various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

2010 Science SOLs
Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
5.5 – cell structures and functions, organism classification, and organism traits.

Grades K-6 Matter Theme
6.5 – properties and characteristics of water.

Life Science Course
LS.3 – cellular organization, including cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems.

Physical Science Course
PS.2 – nature of matter, including elements and compounds, states of matter, physical and chemical properties.

Biology Course
BIO.2 – water chemistry and its impact on life processes.
BIO.4 – life functions (including metabolism and homeostasis) in different organism groups, including human health, anatomy, and body systems.

Chemistry Course
CH.6 – chemical properties in organic chemistry and biochemistry.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.

Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15 – on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282, 9-21-15 – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309, 3-28-16 – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 333, 9-12-16 – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 403, 1-15-18 – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18 – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 406, 2-5-18 – on ice on rivers, for middle school.
Episode 407, 2-12-18 – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.