MIT Touch Lab
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Biomechanics of Touch

Although physical contact is ubiquitous in our interactions with objects in the environment, we do not yet understand the mechanistic phenomena occurring at the skin-object interface. When we touch an object, the source of all tactile information is the spatio-temporal distribution of mechanical loads on the skin at the contact interface. The relationship between these loads and the resulting stresses and strains at the mechanoreceptive nerve terminals within the skin plays a fundamental role in the neural coding of tactile information. The loads, specified as pressure, displacements, etc., depend on the geometrical and material properties of both the contacting entities, as well as the overall forces of interaction. Although empirical determination of the stress or strain state of a mechanoreceptor is not possible at present, mechanistic models of the skin and subcutaneous tissues enable generation of testable hypotheses on skin deformations and associated peripheral neural responses. Verification of the hypotheses can then be accomplished by comparing the calculated results from the models with biomechanical data on the deformation of skin and subcutaneous tissues, and neurophysiological data from recordings of the responses of single neural fibers. The research in this project is directed towards applying analytical and computational mechanics to analyze the biomechanical aspects of touch - the mechanics of contact, the transmission of the mechanical signals through the skin, and their transduction into neural impulses by the mechanoreceptors.

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Last Updated: May 8, 2002 1:45 PM Comments: David Schloerb