Publication of the Society for Science & the Public

# Question Sheet: Getting in Touch with Touch

SCIENCE

1. Why is the sense of touch important? What would be harder or impossible for
you to do if you didn’t have a sense of touch?
2. Imagine that you have a friend who has no sense of touch. How would you
describe to your friend what it’s like to touch something?

1. What makes touch “incredibly complicated”?
2. If scientists figure out a great way to simulate touch, how could it advance
medicine and surgery?
3. Describe the da Vinci system that Okamura and her colleagues are using.
4. How can haptics researchers simulate the sensation of using scissors to cut
through an object?
5. Why is a computer’s limited ability to process data a problem?

1. Why would astronomers or astronauts want to be able to feel as if they are
touching objects in space or on other planets?
2. Design an experiment that would demonstrate how difficult it is to perform a
task without a sense of touch. How would the experiment work?

SOCIAL STUDIES

1. Interview someone who has played Nintendo Wii. Ask him or her how having a
sense of touch changes the experience of playing a video game. Write down the
2. What are some dangers of a doctor actually putting their hand or fingers
inside of a person during surgery?

LANGUAGE ARTS

1. You can use many different words to describe how something feels. Come up
with a list of 10 or more words that people use to describe the sensations of
touch.
2. Blind people have no sense of sight. Deaf people have no sense of hearing.
Which of the following senses—sight, hearing, or touch—would it be most
difficult to live without, and why?

MATHEMATICS

Pretend you are trying to train your pet robot, Hal, to pick up a glass of milk without breaking it. Hal needs to grip the glass with a pressure of at least 21 pounds per square inch (psi), or he will drop it when he tries to pick it up. But if he grips the glass with more
than 35 psi, the glass will shatter.

Hal understands only two commands:
You can tell him to double the current pressure of his grip, and you can tell him to reduce the current pressure of his grip by 5 psi. If his grip pressure is currently 5 psi, which sequence of commands will increase his grip pressure to between 21 and 35 psi? What will his grip pressure be when he successfully picks up the glass?