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Biomedical Engineering Application Brief

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Affiliation


Department of Computer Engineering

Description


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.

Location


Worcester, MA

Sensory Reception

The Problem


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.

Action Potential


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 Sensory Receptor 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 receptor receives.

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.