At the molecular level, electricity governs so much of the interaction that drives the life force of organisms. Photosynthesis, by which green plants use sunlight to make food; vision, which tells an animal what to eat, run from or mate with; or the explosive bursts of energy that move a predator to the dinner table. Even thought itself.
Until recently, little was known about the electrical interactions of cells. Two German scientists, Erwin Neher, 47, and Bert Sakmann, 49, began two decades ago to perfect their "patch clamp" technique, which can detect currents crossing a cell's outer membrane that are so small they must be measured in trillionths of an ampere.
Cellular processes are electrochemical, not purely electrical. To measure such currents there must be a way to detect the passage of charged particles called ions. Dr Neher, director the Max Planck Institute's membrane physiology department in Goettingen, and Dr. Sakmann, a cell physiologist at the institute's Heidelberg laboratory, teamed up to decipher the intracacies of cell communication.