Biomedical Engineering Application Brief
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Department of Computer Engineering
The Worcester Polytechnic Institute offers undergraduate and
graduate courses in electrical and computer engineering. The
Department of Computer Engineering researches power systems,
communications and signal processing, E/M field theory, and a host
of other related areas.
Dr. Fred Looft and Carl Baltensperger completed a study at the
Worcester Polytechnical Institute which gives them a better idea of how
creatures sense their environment. Published in the Proceedings of the
IEEE, the study investigated how the sense of touch is mediated by
nerve endings. The researchers used cats as subjects because cats'
anatomy is well understood and their tactile receptors are similar to
those found in humans. The researchers specifically examined how a
type of sensory receptor in the skin of a cat responds to certain kinds
of mechanical stimulation such as vibration and pressure.
Sensory receptors are nerve cells that translate a stimulus into a
patterned electrical signal that the nervous system uses for higher
processing. A receptor reacts to a stimulus by undergoing a complex
chemical reaction that changes the electrical potential across its cell
membrane. These changes in potential, called action potentials, vary
in amplitude and frequency depending upon the kind of stimulation the
Noisy and Variable Signals
To study cat skin mechanoreceptors, Looft and
Baltensperger need research equipment sensitive enough to measure these
tiny responses from nerve cells. They also need data-processing
software powerful enough to process noisy and variable signals with
ease, and that can provide graphic display of those signals.
Additionally, they need software that is easy to learn and use.