A Case of Heartburn: Replicating the Heart’s Electrical Signals with Fire

April 7, 2021   /  

Student Name: Craig Klumpp
Major: Physics
Advisor: Niklas Manz, Susan Lehman

Typically, when someone mentions fire, a person’s first thought is that of a blazing inferno. However, humanity has learned to somewhat tame flame over the millennia and it has been used greatly in our progress as a species. My research set out to use fire as a tool to replicate one of the most delicate systems found within the human body. This system is the heart’s electrical conduction system which is responsible for the heartbeat. By using fire, behaviors of this system can be replicated in an easy to visualize manner. A few heart behaviors observed over the course of this research include: oscillatory pulses similar to those produced by the sinus node, pulses that matched heart arrhythmias, and blockages of pulses similar to conduction blocks. What was found in this research can be used to further understand how excitation pulses travel within the heart and how certain heart conditions may arise.

Click to view my project (NOTE: This is not a public presentation and will require a Wooster login)
Craig will be online to field comments on April 16: Noon-2 pm EDT (PST 9am-11am, Africa/Europe: early evening).

13 thoughts on “A Case of Heartburn: Replicating the Heart’s Electrical Signals with Fire”

    1. Thanks Dr. Guarnera. It initially took me by surprise that fire could be used in this fashion.

  1. This is so interesting Craig! What kind of applications can you see for this in the field of cardiovascular health?

    1. Hey Jim. Great question. The current method of showing how electrical impulses travel through the
      heart are electrocardiograms (or EKG’s). These are the graphs with the quick spike and the periodic beep. However, most people do not know the specific details of this sort of graph. This graph is denotes where the current action potential is located within the electrical conduction system. The research done here looks at the action potential and how it may travel through the heart. By using action potentials in the form of fire pulses, it can give a simple visualization on how electrical signals in the heart propagate. It can also be used to as a different approach to find and further explain causes for heart diseases.

  2. Congrats Craig! This is such an interesting concept. Your graphics on the poster explained it so well!

    1. Thanks Alice. There are two other heart conditions that were observed that don’t have their own dedicated panels. However, they can be seen within the present figures but are not explicitly explained in on the poster.

      The first being conduction block which as its name suggests is a blockage in the signal being conducted. with fire, this can be seen in both figure 7 and 8. In figure seven in the even columns, the flame travels a shorter distance as there is not enough fuel present to keep the reaction from continuing. In figure 8, two fire pulses annihilate as the fire pulse cannot travel within the refractory period of another. So in the heart, if the ions that cause the electrical signal to travel are too scarce it could causes this. As well as a stray action potential in the heart could prevent a proper signal from travelling.

      The other condition that is not as deeply looked into are bradyarrhythmia. These heart conditions are a heart beat that is slower than 60 beats per minute. The fire clock in figure 5 is an extreme bradyarrhythmia as there are only 2 full pulses that occur within a minutes time.

  3. What is the connection to fire to the heart rate? How would this translate from the first to the heart rate?

    1. Both fire and the cardiac conduction system are excitation systems. An excitation system is a system which oscillates between an excited state and a rest state. So a heart rate is how many beats there are per minute. The beat is the excited state of the heart while the time between beats is the rest. So for fire, if there is enough fuel and energy, the system can be excited and on fire. If you remove fuel or energy the fire will go out and will remain out until that energy or fuel is present again. The system that I used natural oscillated like this as flames would burn oil and die out once it was depleted. The oil could diffuse back upwards. The time it took for this to occur was the resting state of the system. Once enough oil was present a new pulse could travel. This process would then continue until all the oil was depleted or the canvas was oversaturated in oil.

  4. What a great project, Craig! This is my favorite type of physics, when seemingly disparate phenomena can be brought into such close analogy.

    1. Thanks Dr. Leary. I agree that this is also one of my favorite type of physics as well. It is still crazy to me that fires can be used to model such a delicate process.

  5. What an interesting topic and extremely well described! Congratulations Craig!

Comments are closed.