Which solvent to use for metal nerves?

Based on this answer on to how to evolve biological radios, the answer states that if creatures in an ecosystem utilize metal for electrical transmission instead the sodium-gate depolarization system used on earth, they would enjoy a considerable speed advantage. Water will dissolve sodium, and potassium, both used in the operation of nerves. This works well on Earth.

But, we aren't on Earth anymore, we are somewhere else; somewhere that the creatures of this place use metals for their nerves (nerves of steel, if you will) instead of sodium and potassium.


  • What is the best metal+solvent combination to use for a metal nervous system?
  • How likely is this solvent to be freely available in an ecosystem?

Ideally, the metal+solvent pair should not be incompatible with biological systems of the same complexity we see on earth though this need not be proved in your answer.


The design of the surrounding ecosystem is outside the scope of this question. The design of the creatures that would use metal nerves are also outside the scope of this question. We don't care what they look like or how they move. We just care about what they would need to eat and drink to support a nervous system based on metals.

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    $\begingroup$ What have you already searched for & found out about battery chemistry and solvents used in electrical transmission there? $\endgroup$
    – WBT
    Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 14:11

3 Answers 3


I'm not sure we need to discuss solvents in this answer.

This article shows that humans found a bacteria that extracts gold from its environment and then coats itself with it.

If we extrapolate this ability to a eukaryotic being's nerves, then we could get nerve cells coated in highly conductive metals (probably copper - since it's more available and already used in the body).

Once these cells are coated in a highly conductive material, it's easy to see that any electrical impulses passing through that cell will preferentially travel the path of least resistance (through the metal exoskeleton).

The problem is, most of the delay in nerve transmissions are due to the signal jumping the gap between cells and NOT the electrical impulse traversing the cell.

Without the need for receptors to recognize chemical messengers, signal transmission at electrical synapses is more rapid than that which occurs across chemical synapses, the predominant kind of junctions between neurons. The synaptic delay for a chemical synapse is typically about 2 ms, whereas the synaptic delay for an electrical synapse may be about 0.2 ms. However, the difference in speed between chemical and electrical synapses is not as marked in mammals as it is in cold-blooded animals

I think you would see improved reaction times but not by a huge amount.

  • $\begingroup$ An order of magnitude improvement works for me...and we didn't need any really crazy chemistry to make it happen. $\endgroup$
    – Green
    Commented Apr 9, 2016 at 18:23
  • $\begingroup$ In what sense is copper more available? It is toxic. On the other hand, there are huge amounts of iron present in our blood. $\endgroup$
    – emu
    Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ Copper is more available than gold - which is what the bacteria in the link were extracting from their environment. Also just like for most metals, small amounts of copper are required for health. Too much of it is toxic. $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 20:16
  • Both potassium and sodium are both alkali metals. Done.
  • Electrical conductivity of metals relies upon their crystal structure. When dissolved, this stops to work. Steel dissolved in anything would perform as badly as sodium/potassium/chlorine dissolved in water.
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to WB Stack Exchange emu! Please try to provide a bit more detail. I can see where you are going with this but others at WB may not have the chemistry background required. $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 14:39

In a metal on earth, electrons travel because of an electromagnetic wave.

So in your world, a "solvent" for the nerves of steel could be an electromagnetic wave, or perhaps an "ether".

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to WB Stack Exchange user274067! Would you please elaborate on your answer? We generally prefer discussion and/or references on why your answer is the correct one. $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 14:54

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