Keio University Research: Keio University researchers offer insights into human touch

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Keio University publishes the February 2018 issue of Keio Research Highlights that includes a feature article on new insights into human touch and body perception; and research highlights on Earth-abundant iron-based catalysts for making organic compounds, and analysis of the “politics of populism”

Smartphone-based haptic text-based chat system with audio-vibrotactile feedback for sense of presence (Photo Credit: Kazuki Sakurada, SFC TOUCH LAB)

I would like to enhance human abilities to extract valuable knowledge from overwhelming, excessive information in the environment

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Source: Keio University, Office of Research Development and Sponsored Projects

Keio University publishes the February 2018 issue of Keio Research Highlights that includes a feature article on new insights into human touch and body perception; and research highlights on Earth-abundant iron-based catalysts for making organic compounds, and analysis of the “politics of populism”.

Keio Research Highlights website

Frontiers of haptics science: Uncovering the secrets of the human body’s perception of touch

Scientific research has yielded deep understanding into the human senses of sight, hearing, smell, and taste. But knowledge about bodily perceptions of the sense of touch is still limited. For example, during a handshake, who is shaking whose hand? The answer to this question is just one of the multifaceted aspects of touch being studied by ‘haptics scientist’ Masashi Nakatani. “I am intrigued by human somatosensory (touch and body) perception and its utilization for positive psychological and cognitive effects in our daily lives,” says Nakatani, who commenced his research on the Shonan Fujisawa Campus (SFC), Keio University, in April 2017. “I started studying touch modality 16 years ago as an undergraduate. My doctorate was about human tactile perception for developing tactile displays that can provide information through the skin surface.” After his doctorate, Nakatani investigated touch receptors embedded in the skin in a dermatology laboratory and also worked in industry on developing tactile sensors for evaluating cosmetics.

Now, Nakatani is concentrating on developmental psychology in infants, a topic that was triggered by a chance meeting with an educator developing parenting classes for children from 0 to 6 years old, who wanted to use state-of-the-art media technology that included haptics. “This sounded like a very cool concept and I decided to collaborate to develop a parenting service for children,” explains Nakatani. “I’m studying how infants explore and ‘feel their world’ using their vision and touch before they have even acquired language skills. They are collecting information needed to survive.” Underscoring concerns about the effects of modern technology on children’s behavior, Nakatani is analyzing how current technologies such as smartphones and tablet PCs affect their visual and haptic exploratory behavior. “My working hypothesis is that some kids have less opportunities to explore with touch modality because of exposure to massive amounts of information and communications via visual modality, so that they explore environments less manually and actively,” explains Nakatani.

The Keio SFC campus is also conducive for interdisciplinary research, an important factor for Nakatani to be able to pursue his studies on haptics and other research field. “I am working with a music-neuroscientist, Dr. Shinya Fujii, on the relationship between auditory and haptic feedback on subjective frisson, that is the ‘feeling of being chilled and touched’,” says Nakatani. “One of my goals is to clarify how body perception helps us acquire cognitive skills that are unique to human beings, particularly in the modern information age.”

Nakatani and colleagues invented the TECHTILE toolkit to promote people to appreciate the sense of touch. “I think that modern haptic devices must provide greater value for us to enjoy our daily lives,” says Nakatani. One of Nakatani’s students, Kazuki Sakurada, has developed a smartphone-based haptic chat system with audio-vibrotactile feedback to provide a sense of presence of others during text conversations. “This study may yield clues about the importance of somatic feedback in emotional attachment with other people (photo.1),” says Nakatani. “In the long term, I would like to enhance human abilities to extract valuable knowledge from overwhelming, excessive information in the environment.”

1. Maksimovic, S. et al. Epidermal Merkel cells are mechanosensory cells that tune mammalian touch receptors, Nature 509, 617–621 (2014).
DOI: 10.1038/nature1325
2. M. Nakatani, M, et al. Softness sensor system for simultaneously measuring the mechanical properties of superficial skin layer and whole skin. Skin Res Technol. 19 (1), e332-8, 2013. DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0846.2012.00648.x.

Using iron to accelerate organic synthesis

A catalyst made from Earth-abundant iron can drive an important reaction for making organic compounds.
A simple iron catalyst can replace costly ruthenium in a reaction that can be used to generate diverse libraries of complex organic compounds, three researchers at Keio University have shown. This finding promises to make it cheaper to produce complex organic molecules such as organic electronic materials and therapeutic drugs.

Organic molecules consist mainly of carbon and hydrogen atoms plus a few other ‘heteroatoms’, such as nitrogen, oxygen or chlorine. Chemists have traditionally exploited the reactivity of these heteroatoms to build complex products from simple starting molecules. This approach, however, can require long sequences of reactions to install the correct set of heteroatoms for a particular conversion, making synthesis expensive and time consuming.

A more efficient way to make organic molecules is to directly manipulate a molecule’s carbon–hydrogen bonds. Known as carbon–hydrogen bond functionalization, this reaction involves breaking the bond between carbon and hydrogen and then swapping the hydrogen with another element such as carbon, oxygen or nitrogen. But because organic molecules typically contain many such bonds, it is difficult to selectively trigger a reaction at only the desired carbon–hydrogen bond.

One way to achieve this selectivity is to use a catalyst, but these are often expensive precious metals such as rhodium, palladium or ruthenium. There is thus a strong push to replace these precious metal catalysts with cheaper catalysts made from inexpensive, abundant metals such as iron.
Now, Fumitoshi Kakiuchi and co-workers Naoki Kimura and Takuya Kochi at Keio University have shown that a simple iron compound catalyzes the carbon–hydrogen alkylation of aromatic ketones with alkenes. The iron compound does this by bonding to the ketone group of the aromatic ring, which directs the incoming alkene molecule to attach to the adjacent, ‘ortho’ position of the aromatic ring. The trio showed that a wide variety of alkenes can be used for this reaction.

Previous research had suggested that iron could drive this transformation, but the iron was consumed in the process. “These precedent stoichiometric reactions gave us hints to develop iron-catalyzed ortho-selective carbon–hydrogen alkylation of aromatic ketones with alkenes,” Kakiuchi explains.

The next frontier of carbon–hydrogen functionalization reactions is to develop ‘regioselective’ catalysts that selectively target a particular carbon–hydrogen bond without needing a directing group such as a ketone. “Regioselective carbon–hydrogen functionalization of aromatic compounds without using a directing group is still quite difficult,” Kakiuchi notes. “We intend to develop this type of regioselective carbon–hydrogen functionalization using additives or ligands.”

Kimura, N., Kochi, T. & Kakiuchi, F. Iron-catalyzed regioselective anti-Markovnikov addition of C−H bonds in aromatic ketones to alkenes. Journal of the American Chemical Society 139, 14849−14852 (2017).

Keio University

Keio Research Highlights

About Keio University
Keio University is a private, comprehensive university with six major campuses in the Greater Tokyo area along with a number of affiliated academic institutions. Keio prides itself on educational and research excellence in a wide range of fields and its state-of-the-art university hospital.
Keio was founded in 1858, and it is Japan’s first modern institution of higher learning. Over the last century and a half, it has evolved into and continues to maintain its status as a leading university in Japan through its ongoing commitment to producing leaders of the future. Founder Yukichi Fukuzawa, a highly respected educator and one of the most important intellectuals of modern Japan, aspired for Keio to be a pioneer of new discoveries and contribute to society through.

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