Speaker: Dr. Richard Vickery, UNSW
Tapping into the Sense of Touch
Touch is a ubiquitous sense, that utilises the timing of the neural impulses that arise from skin vibrations generated as we scan our skin ridges over surfaces. How we decode these impulse patterns is not well understood. In this talk I will outline how unlocking these patterns offers the opportunity to decipher neural coding, and how we are using these insights to contribute to early detection of peripheral nerve disease, and to provide a safe and flexible way to return touch sensation for improved control of prosthetic limbs. The key to this is a novel way of controlling the neural information presented to the brain. Using very brief mechanical taps delivered to the fingertips, we have shown that each tap generates only one nerve impulse in each activated neuron. By varying the pattern of taps, we can control the pattern of nerve impulses generated in the experimental subjects. This has enabled us to test several ideas describing how these nerve impulses encode information about the environment.
Richard Vickery is a neuroscientist with active research in the fields of sensory neuroscience, neural coding, and prosthetics. Richard is a senior lecturer and Deputy Head of School (Teaching), in Medical Sciences, UNSW Sydney, and has a lab based at Neuroscience Research Australia. Richard has used a range of electrophysiological techniques to study questions of synaptic transmission and information encoding, but in recent years his main focus has been studies in the human sense of touch, combining psychophysical and microneurographic approaches. Richard is also an active educator with research and practice interests in education around the engagement of students, especially in learning fundamental biomedical concepts.