Rats felt a form of light in laboratory test – Will we be able to see that form of light?

Scientists have made the rats to sense (or you can say “touch”) the light that they can’t even see i.e. infrared light.

This research has been published online in the journal Nature Communications.

One of Duke University's infrared detector-equipped test subjects

In this research, scientists fitted the infrared detector wired to electrodes in the part of the brain, i.e. cortical region, of the rats that usually processes the sense of touch from the skin. The rats were then placed in a chamber fitted with three infrared light sources, located above three small port. The scientists already taught the rats about the reward of water, when they stuck their nose in the port, near the light source, after the light came on. Initially the rats only rubbed their faces with the light. After a month of work, rats were able to determine the light source by sweeping their heads back and forth, and proceed to get water from the port of the lighted source among the three sources of light. As a further confirmation, scientists found that the rats were not able to detect the infrared lights, when the infrared detectors in the brain were temporarily disabled and thereby, were not able to get water from the port of the lighted source.

Working of the experiment (Credit: nicolelislab.net)

According to Miguel Nicolelis, Neurobiologist from Duke University, sensing might be built into an exoskeleton so that the patients would be able to get the sensory information after wearing the suit. This sensory information would give the patients an ability to know the position of the limbs and the sense of feeling the objects.

The basic aim behind this work is to enable the people, who use brain-controlled prosthetic devices, to sense the texture of the objects through their hands or feet. Moreover, researchers are of the opinion that the people could be enabled to use a disabled sense through another part of the brain as for example people with damaged visual cortex might be able to see again, if the retinal impulses are allowed to pass to another cortical region that would be able to do normal function along with the additional function.

According to scientists, this research could be used to enable the rats or even humans to actually see the infrared light. “We could create devices sensitive to any physical energy,” Nicolelis said. “It could be magnetic fields, radio waves, or ultrasound. We chose infrared initially because it didn’t interfere with our electrophysiological recordings.”


Thomson, E., Carra, R., & Nicolelis, M. (2013). Perceiving invisible light through a somatosensory cortical prosthesis Nature Communications, 4 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms2497


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