Lead Research Organisation: Marine Biological Association
Department Name: Marine Biology


Much of what we know about how cells function, how they communicate and process information and how they transport essential elements and molecules has come from the application of electrophysiological approaches. The most well known example of this is the pioneering work of Hodgkin and Huxley, carried out at the Marine Biological Association (MBA) with the giant nerve fibre of the squid which led to the discovery of how nerve cells transmit impulses and formed the basis of much modern neurobiology. Since these seminal discoveries the field of electrophysiology has expanded dramatically and electrophysiological approaches are applied to study a wide range of processes in cells, including the functional characterization of molecules that are increasingly being characterised at the molecular level. In 1984 it was decided that there was a need for an annual research workshop to provide training in the varied uses of microelectrode techniques. This has proven to be a very valuable contribution to cell biology and biophysics and has had significant impact on the training of new generations of cell physiologists. The MBA was chosen as the venue for this workshop since it provided both excellent workshop facilities and a continuing tradition of microelectrode and associated biophysical approaches in cell biology. The workshop has continued uninterrupted since then and is now recognised worldwide as one of the leading advanced research workshops in this field. The need to train the new generation of electrophysiolgists continues, particularly with the increased emphasis on functional characterisation of membrane proteins and a wide range of cell biological areas. The workshop continues to be over-subscribed with applications 3-4 fold each year for the 20 places available. To meet this continuing need the proposed 5-year extension to the ongoing workshop will provide training in both the basic principles and more advanced practical and theoretical aspects of electrophysiology. New approaches are planned to be incorporated over this period. The basic workshop fomat will continue with a core of teaching and demonstrating staff recruited mainly from research laboratories in the UK and Europe along with an intensive series of talks and demonstrations from invited international experts. The workshop also benefits from the good relations that have been established over 28 years with a large number of commercial instrument manufacturers that ensures significant in-kind contributions of equipment and who also contribute expertise as instructors.

Technical Summary

The Plymouth Microelectrodes course is a 2 week residential Workshop started in 1984 to teach electrophysiological techniques for cell physiology and developmental biology. The venue, the Marine Biological Association, has proved to be very practical as a venue from the point of view of organisation, infrastructure and support, as well as being historically appropriate. The continuing, and increasing need for workshops of this type is evident from the increasing numbers of students accepted on the Workshop over recent years. It has generated two editions of the Plymouth Workshop Handbook. A significant feature of the Workshop is the exceptional support that it receives 'in kind' from major equipment suppliers. A large number of commercial suppliers provide their equipment on loan for the workshop period and several participate in the teaching and demonstrating. These relationships have been built up and maintained over the years and represent an irreplaceable resource. The structure of the Workshop has been changed from one that teaches purely theory and technique to one that includes academic topics in neuroscience and cardiovascular physiology. There have been changes to the specialist techniques taught on the Workshop. We will retain the tuition in basic techniques (e.g. patch clamp, single and 2-electrode voltage clamp, microinjection, ion-selective microelectrodes) but will continue to introduce new lectures and methods for example in cardiovascular electrophysiology and optical recording of membrane potential. In 2008 new teachers with smooth muscle expertise and an experiment with multielectrode array recording from cardiac muscle were incorporated. The emphasis of the lecture programme and practical experiments will change through the years 2010-2015 to incorporate lectures highlighting experimental design and physiological significance of research results as well as the traditional emphasis of technique.

Planned Impact

The objectives of this proposal are to bring about knowledge exchange via an annual advanced research workshop. Specifically we aim to: 1. Provide continuation of intensive training in the use of microelectrodes for the next generation of researchers in cell biology, biophysics and neurosciences. 2. Attract national and international participation of postgraduate, postdoctoral and experienced researchers. 3. Introduce new techniques and applications as they are developed. 4. Continue to foster unique relations with major suppliers of electrophysiological and microscopy equipment to ensure the provision of state of the art equipment for the Workshop. BBSRC-funded PhD students and postdoctoral workers represent some of the main direct beneficiaries of this workshop, as reflected in the numbers of BBSRC-funded student participants (representing approximately 25% of the total student intake). Moreover, the workshop provides a major knowledge exchange activity, benefiting BBSRC-funded scientists who both teach on the workshop and discuss the latest developments in single cell biophysics. Attendance at this workshop is viewed by student participants as valuable currency for their future employment prospects. The benefit to established scientists is evident from the large numbers of scientists who have willingly come to teach on the workshop on an expenses-only basis. The workshop is cross-research council with significant numbers of participants funded through other UK and European bodies. An important criterion for selection of student participants is the degree to which the techniques acquired during the workshop will be applied back in their host laboratories. UK scientists in a range of cell biological and physiological disciplines therefore represent another major group of beneficiaries. Likewise, European and international research groups benefit from the opportunities to send postgraduate and postdoctoral participants on the workshop. There is significant exchange of know-how between workshop participants and manufacturers of electrophysiological and imaging equipment. The commercial sector benefits in two ways - through academic interactions with scientific users leading to improved functionality of products and through increased exposure to the academic sector and marketing opportunities. Some instrument manufacturers (e.g. Cairn Research Ltd, NPI electronics, HEKA) have participated actively in the workshop and have taken advantage of the intensive interactions with scientists to develop their products to meet user requirements. Researchers who gain experience with a particular piece of commercial equipment are more likely to purchase that model for their own experiments. For these reasons instrument manufacturers are very willing to loan equipment and to provide demonstrations. More generally the workshop represents a highly efficient mechanism for knowledge exchange across a broad range of scientific disciplines with obvious direct and indirect benefits to basic biological and biomedical sciences as well as biotechnological and medical fields.


10 25 50
Description Significant interaction between academic and commercial equipment suppliers (E.g. Cairn Research Ltd) leading to improved micro-electrode and imaging equipment.
Sector Electronics,Healthcare
Impact Types Economic

Description BBSRC responsive mode
Amount £165,490 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/P003923/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2016 
End 09/2021
Description Company of Biologists
Amount £22,000 (GBP)
Organisation Company of Biologists 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2015 
End 09/2016
Description 31st microelectrode techniques workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A practical advanced training workshop in microelectrode techniques for cell physiology. 2 weeks duration

20 graduate and postdoctoral students trained in advanced techniques
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity Pre-2006,2006,2007,2008,2009,2010,2011,2012,2013,2014
URL http://www.mba.ac.uk/microelectrode-techniques-for-cell-physiology/
Description On-line workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact An on-line version of the annual Microelectrode Techniques workshop was held in 2021 due to Covid restrictions on hosting a practical workshop in-house. More than 350 students and researchers registered and approx 20 experts gave on-line talks or demonstrations over a 2-week period.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL http://www.mba.ac.uk
Description Workshop of Microelectrode Techniques 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Practical and theoretical 2-week workshop on the application of microelectrode techniques for cell physiology. Attended by 20 postgraduate and postdoctoral students and 20 experts from around the world, providing hands on 1:! tuition. Significant participation of commercial (microscopy and electronics) companies is also a feature of this Workshop. This was the 34th workshop in this series. It continues to be substantially oversubscribed by applicants.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.mba.ac.uk/microelectrode-techniques-cell-physiology