University of Otago.Department of Physiology.Department of Physiology.

Physiology TV

An overview of Physiology at the University of Otago.


9th February, 2018

Dahlia based diabetes drug developed by Physiology researcher ready for human trials

In partnership with Plant and Food Research, researchers will soon begin human trials of a drug made from dahlias.

9th January, 2018

Otago breakthrough in diabetic heart disease

The molecule responsible for heart disease in diabetics has been identified by University of Otago researchers, greatly improving chances of survival.

13th November, 2017

Otago study could mean hope for infertile couples

Crucial new information about how the brain controls fertility has been unlocked by University of Otago researchers, with their findings just published in prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

13th November, 2017

Phenomenal success for Physiology researchers in latest Marsden funding round

Four 3-year project grants were awarded to Department of Physiology researchers in this year’s Marsden Fund - totalling over $3.8M.

25th October, 2017

Charlotte Steel, BSc (Hons) NEUR student in the Department has gained a Cambridge Rutherford Memorial PhD Scholarship

Our congratulations to Charlotte who is currently completing a BSc (Hons) degree in Neuroscience in the Department of Physiology with supervisor Assoc Prof Phil Sheard.

Next Event

26th February, 2018

Rachel Lund (1-yr PhD Presentation)

PhD Programme.

Hands on Science

The Department of Physiology was delighted to once again host a group of keen high school students for Hands On Science in January 2015.

Physiology project leaders:

Erin Cameron, Liam Farley and Andrew Barlow.

Day One: Senses

Hands on Science - Senses

On the first day we got to know each other and talked about what the Department of Physiology does. The first experiment we took part in was to test our nervous system. This taught us that different areas in our body have different sensitivities. We did this by using probes to find receptive fields on our arms and fingers and we compared results. We then learnt about eyes and their structure, discovering our blind spots and discussing colour blindness and other eye problems.

Later, some students became subjects for our next experiment, the spinning chair. The objective of the spinning chair was to activate the semi-circular canals inside the inner ear and understand the mechanism that the body uses to balance. We used our knowledge of these mechanisms to produce some vestibular illusions, causing our subjects to perceive that they were falling forwards when they were really spinning horizontally.

Day two: Nerves and Muscles

Hands on Science - Nerves and Muscles

On Tuesday we investigated nerves, muscles and reflexes. First we stimulated the ulnar nerve by placing stimulating electrodes on our elbow. These were connected to a device that produces electrical pulses. The electric pulses made our hands twitch uncontrollably and the twitching increased as we turned up the voltage and frequency of the electrical pulses.

We then measured the speed at which the electrical activity moved down our arms. We placed recording electrodes on our hands and connected these electrodes to a computer. Using the results recorded from an EMG (electromyogram) and some calculations we were able to figure out the conduction velocity along our ulnar nerves.

Finally, we were taught how to measure our muscle stretch reflex and our voluntary reflexes. We placed recording electrodes on our soleus muscle and connected these electrodes to a computer. We stimulated the stretch reflex by striking the Achilles tendon with the hammer, causing an automatic involuntary soleus contraction. We found that the voluntary movement was relatively slow compared with the stretch reflex. We interpreted that this difference was because the voluntary reflex contraction was initiated in the brain and relied on us concentrating and reacting quickly, whereas the stretch muscle reflex came from the spinal cord and was initiated independently of our conscious input.

Day Three: Cardiovascular System

Hands on Science - Cardiovascular System

The body relies on the cardiovascular system to deliver oxygen to the muscles and brain. On day three we examined several aspects of this system. We recorded an ECG (electrocardiogram), which showed us the electrical changes that occur during a cardiac cycle. From this we were able to calculate our resting heart rate. The average for the group was 74 beats per minute. We built on this by designing our own experiments to test the heart's response to physical and mental stress. I some cases the mental stress raised our heart rate as much as the physical stress!

We also looked at control of breathing and were surprised to discover that carbon dioxide is the main driving factor in restful breathing, not oxygen. We worked this out by measuring our alveolar gases after holding out breaths following normal breathing, a deep inspiration, and hyperventilation.

Day Four: Hearing and Taste

Hands on Science - Hearing and Taste

Hearing is something that is taken for granted on a daily basis. As part of our physiology course we got the opportunity to learn about the structure and function of the human ear, along with the fragility of it. A well-known fact is that the smallest bones in the human body can be found in the middle ear. As well as having the smallest bones it has the smallest muscles, making it easily damaged.

We also explored our sense of taste, which meant that we ate icecream and jellybeans! We discovered that warm icecream tastes sweeter than cold icecream because our sweet taste receptors are temperature sensitive. We tried to guess the flavour of jellybeans with and without a noseclip and found that we could only taste the sweetness with the noseclip on, so our more sophisticated perception of flavour must involve our sense of smell.

Participating Students:

Sherry Malik, Ellie McDonald, Becky Payne, Shontal Norton, Kate van Dillen, Charlotte Western, David Spencer, Kataraina Harris, Sam Leary, Caleb Wilson, Stacy-Ria Te Kurapa King, Katie Knowles, Rebecca Brimble, Ali Page, Euan Dixon, Anmol Sandhu, Katie Read, Grace Boyle, Kalesita Pole, Sandy Su

My Summer Research Scholarship in the Department of Physiology was the highlight of my time at the University of Otago as I learnt many new skills, including how to carry out scientific research in a controlled manner, collecting and analyzing scientific data in an orderly fashion, and most importantly, learning to read and think critically.

Aye Thaung - Summer Research Student 2010/2011