Events

Rats are expert at navigating the world in the dark using their sense of touch. They rhythmically brush and tap about 60 large vibrissae (whiskers) against objects to determine object size, shape, orientation, and texture. Whiskers have no sensors along their length; instead, all mechanosensory information is transmitted to sensors located only at the base of each whisker. Imagine, now, that we could quantify the head movements of the rat, as well as the mechanical signals at the base of each and every whisker as the rat tactually explores its world. We would then have access to all of the primary mechanical information that the nervous system requires in order for the animal to perceive its environment through touch. In this talk, I will describe how our lab combines mechanical simulations and experiments, hardware models, behavioral studies, and neurophysiology to study the sense of touch in the rat vibrissal system. We aim to integrate realistic simulations of vibrissal dynamics with behaviorally-measured head and vibrissal kinematics to model the rat's tactile sampling strategies for different objects. Our goal is to quantify the mechanics at each vibrissa base for a given exploratory sequence and the associated responses of primary sensory neurons in the brain.