According to new research from scientists at the University of California San Diego, the human touch is many times more sensitive than we would have thought. It might even be able to literally tell us the difference between molecules with just a feel.
Through experiments conducted at the university, researchers found that even just a single layer of a substance one molecule thick was enough to allow subjects to differentiate it from others.
Human Touch is More Sensitive Than Estimated
Oxygen, fluorine, and carbon atoms were used during testing. Study subjects were easily able to identify them even when only the topmost layer of molecules on each sample was changed.
They were instructed to rub or tap their fingers across silicon wafers. All of these were identical except for a top layer of molecules composed of different substances. One experiment consisted of only two wafers. A second one came with three different ones. Participants were also asked to decode a message. This was written on wafers using binary, and it spelled out the word “lab”.
In all the experiments run, a vast majority of the subjects was able to correctly identify the difference in the wafers. The participants were also able to decode the message. Around 71% and 91% of the subjects passed in substance differentiation and binary decoding, respectively.
The researchers theorize that the ability to pass these tests is partially due to the friction experienced against the fingertip with each different kind of substance. Minute differences in sound when being tapped might also help as well.
“This is the greatest tactile sensitivity that has ever been shown in humans,” said Darren Lipomi. He is one of the project leaders and a professor at UC San Diego.
Through this discovery and an increased understanding of just how acute our sense of touch really is, we could begin to see further advances in wearable prostheses. The same could be said about virtual reality technology as well. A better knowledge of just how powerful touch is and how it happens could quickly see a breakthrough in replicating that ability in machinery.
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