Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Measuring Current in Plants

Name: Ilana
Status: student
Grade: 9-12
Location: VA
Country: USA
Date: Fall 2013

What is the easiest and simplest way to measure electrical signalling (or action potential) in plants? Can I simply hook a plant up to a voltmeter?

Hi Ilana,

Thanks for the question. No, you will not get a meaningful result when you hook up a plant to a voltmeter. In order to measure an action potential in any cell, you will need to have an electrode inside the cell and another electrode outside of the cell. From my understanding, with plants, it is difficult to insert an electrode into the cell since you have to penetrate the cell wall. It may be necessary to remove the cell from the plant wall and I am unsure of how to do this. In order to give you specifics, I would have to consult the research literature.

I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have more questions. Thanks Jeff

I don’t think there is an easy, simple way. If you have the plant in soil or water, or even a damp stem/root, the conductivity will be carried by the water. The path of the electrical current will be the water in parallel with the plant material. I’m not an expert on this, but my general opinion is that special micro—electrodes would be needed. If you do a website search you may find an experimental setup that avoids these problems.

Vince Calder

Click here to return to the Botany Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 223
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: November 2011
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory