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November 11, 2012 5:23 pm
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Israeli Scientists Use Whiskers on Humans for Breakthrough

avatar by Zach Pontz

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A rat and its whiskers. Photo: Wikipedia

A research team at the Weizmann Institute of Science has gained valuable insight into the process of sensing that may assist in developing new ways to help the blind.

Nocamels.com, an Israeli innovation website, reports that an article published in the Journal of Neuroscience details a study conducted by a team of Israeli scientists on humans which was inspired by the way in which rats are able to use their whiskers to sense their surroundings.

According to Nocamels.com the study was conducted in the following manner:

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{Scientists] “attached a “whisker” – a 30 cm-long elastic “hair” with position and force sensors on its base – to the index finger of each hand of a blindfolded subject. Then, two poles were placed at arm’s distance on either side and slightly to the front of the seated subject, with one a bit farther back than the other. Using just their whiskers, the subjects were challenged to figure out which pole – left or right – was the back one. As the experiment continued, the displacement between front and back poles was reduced, up to the point when the subject could no longer distinguish front from back.”

On the first day of the experiment, subjects picked up the new sense so well that they were able to correctly identify a pole that was set back eight centimeters. When they repeated the testing the next day, the researchers discovered that the subjects had improved their whisking skills significantly.

One of the scientists explained the findings: “We know that our senses are linked to muscles, for example ocular and hand muscles. In order to sense the texture of cloth, for example, we move our fingers across it, and to seeing stationary object, our eyes must be in constant motion. In this research, we see that changing our physical movements alone – without any corresponding change in the sensitivity of our senses – can be sufficient to sharpen our perception.”

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  • David

    The research is based on studies reported years ago in Scientific American of how rats used their whiskers. The results should prove very valuable in the biological sciences.

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