Electric fish could spark healthcare innovation

Jun 19, 2009
Electric fish

(PhysOrg.com) -- Mathematicians in Manchester are hoping electric fish can give them clues to solving a fiendishly complex mathematical problem - which could in turn lead to better treatment for patients with lung problems.

A tank containing Peters’ Elephantnose Fish from Africa and Black Ghost Knifefish from South America has been installed in the School of Mathematics at The University of Manchester for a special conference on Biomedical Electrical Impedance Tomography (EIT).

Mathematicians say the fish have a natural ability to solve a mathematical conundrum related to EIT called the Inverse Conductivity problem - and so have invited them along as experts.

The fish generate an electric current and use voltage sensors on their surface to locate prey. In a similar way, EIT uses electric current to allow us to see inside objects without physically disturbing them.

Medical EIT can be used, for example, to monitor lungs in intensive care patients - and medical professionals have been invited to a special session at the University that focuses on using the technology for lung imaging.

It’s hoped that discussions with doctors and consultants on their needs and desires will help mathematicians provide effective solutions to real-life problems.

Prof Mark Nelson of the University of Illinois, an internationally renowned expert on electrosensing in fish, has also been invited to give a special talk to delegates about the behavior and capabilities of weakly electric fish.

And another event will bring together mathematicians with geophysicists and engineers, to discuss the challenges they face in using EIT in their respective fields.

Viewers of Channel 4’s Time Team will have seen EIT being used during the ‘geofizz’ process to identify areas of interest. Electrical engineers are also using EIT to see inside gas and oil pipelines and similar mathematics is used 3D airport body scanners.

Event organiser Prof Bill Lionheart from The School of Mathematics at The University of Manchester, said: “Weakly electric fish are really interesting to us because they have the ability to solve a very challenging mathematical problem when catching their food. Nature seems to have come up with a nice solution to the Inverse Conductivity problem, so we are keen to learn from them.

“Electrical Impedance Tomography has important applications in a range of different fields, ranging from medicine to archaeology.

“Researchers in these areas concentrate on making the technology work in vastly different ways - but the one thing that ties all their work together is the mathematics behind it.”

Andrew Gray, Curator of Herpetology at The Manchester Museum has advised the mathematicians on the keeping of the fish, while other invaluable advice has been provided by Britain’s Aquatic Superstore, Manchester Pets and Aquatics and Oasis Aquarium.

Provided by University of Manchester

Explore further: Russia turns back clocks to permanent Winter Time

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Elephantnose fish 'see' with their chin

Aug 21, 2007

Originating in Central Africa, Peters' elephantnose fish (Gnathonemus petersii), finds its bearings by means of weak electrical fields. Scientists from the University of Bonn have now been able to show how well this works. ...

Fish use electric signals to find the right mate

Jun 11, 2009

Electric knifefish, close relatives of the electric eel, navigate and communicate by projecting electric fields around their bodies. Research at University of Toronto is clarifying how this sense has evolved, as well as providing ...

Famous 40-Year-Old Math Problem Solved

Nov 23, 2005

For some, spending more than three years working to solve a more than 40-year-old math problem sounds like a nightmare. For University of Missouri-Columbia mathematics professor Steve Hofmann, solving a problem posed by one ...

Recommended for you

Russia turns back clocks to permanent Winter Time

13 hours ago

Russia on Sunday is set to turn back its clocks to winter time permanently in a move backed by President Vladimir Putin, reversing a three-year experiment with non-stop summer time that proved highly unpopular.

Remains of French ship being reassembled in Texas

Oct 24, 2014

A frigate carrying French colonists to the New World that sank in a storm off the Texas coast more than 300 years ago is being reassembled into a display that archeologists hope will let people walk over ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Alburton
5 / 5 (1) Jun 19, 2009
I would really had apreciated it if the last repetition of how important and useful EIT-technology is would have been substituted by an explanation of what "the inverse conductivity problem" is all about.