In a new study, researchers found that humans can detect different molecular differences just by touching them.
An astonishing new study claims that the human sense of touch is so sensitive, that we can feel the molecules themselves in the things we touch. Researchers at the University of California San Diego found that humans can determined the difference between surfaces that are different by just a single layer of molecules, suggesting an incredible amount of tactile sensitivity, and more than most people realize.
While it seems rather unremarkable that we can tell the difference between glass, metal, wood, and plastic with our touch, researchers wanted to see if they changed just the topmost layer of molecules if we could still tell the difference. They found that yes, humans could indeed identify a significant difference between these surfaces.
The discovery is important because it could lead to breakthroughs in developing electronic skin for prosthetics, as well as developments in virtual and augmented reality. It’s difficult to produce such enhancements without understanding how human touch works, so this research will be key to those developments.
“Today’s technologies allow us to see and hear what’s happening, but we can’t feel it,” said Cody Carpenter, a nanoengineering Ph.D. student at UC San Diego and co-first author of the study. “We have state-of-the-art speakers, phones and high-resolution screens that are visually and aurally engaging, but what’s missing is the sense of touch. Adding that ingredient is a driving force behind this work.”