A two-dimensional force sensor in the millinewton range for measuring vibrissal contacts

Brian W. Quist, Mitra J Z Hartmann*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The rat vibrissal (whisker) array is a common model system in neuroscience used to study sensorimotor integration. Recent work has suggested that during object contact, the forces and moments at the whisker base may serve as important perceptual cues to the rat. To date, however, the force/moment profile that results from a whisker sweeping against an object has yet to be characterized, because it requires the simultaneous measurement of two-dimensional forces on the order of millinewtons. Current technology for these measurements typically involves prohibitively bulky, expensive equipment with complicated fabrication techniques. We have developed a simple, yet effective two-dimensional force sensor with ±0.02 mN resolution; it is extremely compact, has a highly linear static response with low-noise output, and is inexpensive to build. We demonstrate the advantages and limitations of the sensor in three different experimental protocols, ranging from the precise quantification of forces on isolated (plucked) whiskers, to the detection of whisker-contact times in the awake behaving animal. Given the high fidelity of the sensor, it could have utility in a broad range of applications in which measuring contact/detach occurrence and/or small magnitude forces are important.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)158-167
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience Methods
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 30 2008


  • Contact sensor
  • Force sensor
  • Vibrissae
  • Whisker
  • Whisking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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