A pinboard by
Yan Yu

PhD Candidate, Northwestern University


We demonstrated that besides of tactile sensation, rat whiskers were used to sense airflow.

My work has focused on quantifying the mechanical and neuronal responses of rat vibrissal system to airflow and on studying anemotaxis (wind-following) in rats. These studies offer important insights into neuroethology as well as into the development of novel sensing devices to sense fluid flow (both air and water) and track wakes. My results are likely to have multiple applications in several engineering domains.

Anemotaxis in rats: To determine the extent to which rats use their whiskers to sense airflow my colleagues and I trained a group of five rats to localize airflow and a control group of three rats to localize light. Trimming the whiskers reduced the ability of the rats to localize wind, but not light. This is the first study to investigate the cues that allow terrestrial mammals to detect and localize airflow. These findings shed light on an entirely new function for the rat whisker system which was previously studied only in the context of direct tactile contact.

Mechanical responses of rat vibrissae (whisker) to airflow: I developed a test-bed to investigate the mechanical responses rat vibrissae to airflow, and used three-dimensional (3D) video to quantify bending and vibrations of the whiskers. I then performed simulations to generalize these results across the rat vibrissal array, and simulated the effects of rat head orientation and rat whisking motions.

Neuronal responses in trigeminal ganglion (Vg) to airflow: To investigate how information about airflow is encoded in the vibrissal system, my colleagues and I quantified the responses of the vibrissal-responsive primary sensory neurons in Vg to airflow with different speeds and directions.