Introduction to Bioelectrics

What is Bioelectrics?

Logo of the Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics and the International Bioelectrics Consortium. It shows the interaction of electromagnetic radiation and plasma ions with a cell.
Generally "Bioelectrics' describes the use of electrical stimuli or stimuli generated by electrical means on biological systems. These systems can be specific cells, such as cancer cells and bacteria, or more complex arrangements, such as tissues and organs, or even very complex environmens and eco systems, which include different plant and animal species.Typical stimuli are plasmas (primarily non-thermal) but also electrial pulses, that are applied either unipolar or as electromagnetic radiation (e.g. microwaves). As broad as this definition is also the range of applications.
The name 'Bioelectrics" was originally coined by Karl Schoenbach who first used it to describe the interaction of nanosecond pulsed electric fields with mammalian cells. Soon the scope expanded to include also plasma applications and the application of longer electrical pulses. In 2002 Old Dominion University founded the Center for Bioelectrics, dedicated to this research area. The growing interest in Bioelectrics was confirmed when several US and international institutions (including universities and institutes in Japan amd Germany) came together in an International Bioelectrics Consortium. The consortium has grown ever since and is to this date (January 2013) including 3 universities in the US, 2 institutes in Germany, 2 institutes in France, 1 institute in Slovenia, 1 institute in the Czech Republic, 1 institute in Italy, and 1 university in Japan. (More information can be found on the webpages of the Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics.)

Introduction to the Introduction to Bioelectrics

This website is part of In fact if you followed the link 'bioelectrics' from this site you will have ended up here. In this case you will notice, that the menue-items have slightly changed. Don't panic - a click on the pulsedpower-logo will bring you right back and to the menue, too. Several reasons have pursuaded me to make this paradigm-shift. First, 'Bioelectrics' is a topic that is extensive enough to have a website dedicated to it in its own right. Second, I will try to build up this website in parallel to a course in Bioelectrics, which I have taught at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Of course, this website cannot be a replacement for the class itself or a textbook. In fact most topics will be treated very superficial. I'll rather see this website as a way to give a more general introduction into the topic areas of 'Bioelectrics'. I also believe, that this is supported by the nature of the medium, which requires briefness and hence no topic should be discussed in more than 1-2 letter size pages. And as last reason, the medium of the internet is highly interactive and therefore requires means to jump around in any direction that the interested reader sees fit in addtion to the possibility to supply as many crossreferences, applets, flash-animations, images as possible. (It might be old-fashioned but for me 'frames' are still the easiest way to accomplish this. Just keep this in mind when printing!) And with this, I hope you will enjoy the show. By the way - feedback and suggestions are always welcome.

Relation to Other Disciplines


Bioelectrics is an interdisciplinary area that draws from the expertise of many different fields. It includes the study of many phenomena also known to Bioelectromagnetism but encompasses a broader range of topics.
The investigation of electrical phenomena in cells and tissues and their manipulation by external stimuli has sprouted a variety of definitions and categorizations that intend to help with the organization of the field and give a concise description of it. Although there is no general consensus, there is wide agreement that bioelectromagnetism describes electromagnetic signals (voltages, currents, electric and magnetic fields) that arise from living subjects and the manipulation of the processes that generate them by similar stimuli, i.e. in particular of similar magnitude. Bioelectricity describes the generation of currents and voltages that are generated in cells and tissues and their behavior as part of an externally connected electric circuit. Next to these terms, several others can be found in the literature, generated on the one hand by the need for more specialization in some areas: biomagnetism, bioelectronics; and on the other hand by the desire of broader generalization or different emphasis: bioelectrical engineering, biomedical engineering, bioengineering etc.
In comparison to these other definitions, Bioelectrics describes a fairly new field, which tries to encompass the manipulation of cells, tissues and organisms by electrical stimuli, or stimuli that are brought about by electrical means. These include foremost electric fields but also plasmas and can be expanded even to include lithroscopy, which uses pulsed discharges. Mostly there is no similar stimulus generated in a cell or a body. Still the goal is to affect cellular processes and physiological responses and therefore Bioelectrics has a strong overlap with the field of bioelectromagnetism as described above. However, the manipulation of cell processes that are not caused or involved in the generation of electrical signals are also included. As truly interdisciplinary discipline, 'biolectrics' requires the expertise from many different areas and as such overlaps with many established areas of broader interest, such as biophysics, cellular biology, human physiology and many others.

Juergen Kolb, July 2009 (edited January 2013)

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