Mechanical characteristics of rat vibrissae: Resonant frequencies and damping in isolated whiskers and in the awake behaving animal

Mitra J. Hartmann*, Nicholas J. Johnson, R. Blythe Towal, Christopher Assad

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

147 Scopus citations

Abstract

We investigated the natural resonance properties and damping characteristics of rat macrovibrissae (whiskers). Isolated whiskers rigidly fixed at the base showed first-mode resonance peaks between 27 and 260 Hz, principally depending on whisker length. These experimentally measured resonant frequencies were matched using a theoretical model of the whisker as a conical cantilever beam, with Young's modulus as the only free parameter. The best estimate for Young's modulus was ∼3-4 GPa. Results of both vibration and impulse experiments showed that the whiskers are strongly damped, with damping ratios between 0.11 and 0.17. In the behaving animal, whiskers that deflected past an object were observed to resonate but were damped significantly more than isolated whiskers. The time course of damping varied depending on the individual whisker and the phase of the whisking cycle, which suggests that the rat may modulate biomechanical parameters that affect damping. No resonances were observed for whiskers that did not contact the object or during free whisking in air. Finally, whiskers on the same side of the face were sometimes observed to move in opposite directions over the full duration of a whisk. We discuss the potential roles of resonance during natural exploratory behavior and specifically suggest that resonant oscillations may be important in the rat's tactile detection of object boundaries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6510-6519
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Volume23
Issue number16
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 23 2003

Keywords

  • Edge detection
  • Exploration
  • Exploratory behavior
  • Rat
  • Resonance
  • Tactile
  • Tactual
  • Vibration
  • Vibrissae
  • Whiskers
  • Whisking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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