The OpenPicoAmp: An Open-Source Planar Lipid Bilayer Amplifier for Hands-On Learning of Neuroscience
Understanding the electrical biophysical properties of the cell membrane can be difficult for neuroscience students as it relies solely on lectures of theoretical models without practical hands on experiments. To address this issue, we developed an open-source lipid bilayer amplifier, the OpenPicoAmp, which is appropriate for use in introductory courses in biophysics or neurosciences at the undergraduate level, dealing with the electrical properties of the cell membrane. The amplifier is designed using the common lithographic printed circuit board fabrication process and off-the-shelf electronic components. In addition, we propose a specific design for experimental chambers allowing the insertion of a commercially available polytetrafluoroethylene film. We provide a complete documentation allowing to build the amplifier and the experimental chamber. The students hand-out giving step-by step instructions to perform a recording is also included. Our experimental setup can be used in basic experiments in which students monitor the bilayer formation by capacitance measurement and record unitary currents produced by ionic channels like gramicidin A dimers. Used in combination with a low-cost data acquisition board this system provides a complete solution for hands-on lessons, therefore improving the effectiveness in teaching basic neurosciences or biophysics.