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Extending the Human Senses, or How to Feel Light

February 21, 2013, 10:30 AM

What's the Latest Development?

Researchers at Duke University recently discovered they could enable rats to feel infrared light by implanting special sensors into the brain, allowing the rodents to "touch" extra-sensory information invisible to their eye. "The rats in the experiment initially experience the light source as a tactile sensation and try to rub their whiskers when exposed to the infra-red light source. However, within weeks the rats were able to learn to differentiate the artificial infrared sense from actual tactile stimulation of their whiskers and used this new ability to find water in an apparently 'dark' enclosure."

What's the Big Idea?

Visualizing infrared light has already proven useful to doctors as a way to diagnose symptoms, such as low blood flow to the limbs, that indicate a potentially serious medical condition. Future experiments can be expected that extend this research into other types of synesthetic sensory experiences. "In the near term a surgical procedure could allow us to touch infrared and ultraviolet light, see sounds beyond the normal human hearing range of 20-20,000 Hz, smell electromagnetic waves, see through walls with RADAR 'vision', detect trace amounts of 'odorless' chemicals, and more."

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

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