Predicting human touch sensitivity to single atom substitutions in surface monolayers for molecular control in tactile interfaces†
The mechanical stimuli generated as a finger interrogates the physical and chemical features of an object form the basis of fine touch. Haptic devices, which are used to control touch, primarily focus on recreating physical features, but the chemical aspects of fine touch may be harnessed to create richer tactile interfaces and reveal fundamental aspects of tactile perception. To connect tactile perception with molecular structure, we systematically varied silane-derived monolayers deposited onto surfaces smoother than the limits of human perception. Through mechanical friction testing and cross-correlation analysis, we made predictions of which pairs of silanes might be distinguishable by humans. We predicted, and demonstrated, that humans can distinguish between two isosteric silanes which differ only by a single nitrogen-for-carbon substitution. The mechanism of tactile contrast originates from a difference in monolayer ordering, as quantified by the Hurst exponent, which was replicated in two alkylsilanes with a three-carbon difference in length. This approach may be generalizable to other materials and lead to new tactile sensations derived from materials chemistry.