Featured ERIN Resource: Video on Sensory Substitution with Paul Bach-y-Rita


ERIN Featured Resource:

 Video on Neuroplasticity and Sensory Substitution with Paul Bach-y-Rita



This month’s featured resource is short video clip describing the groundbreaking work on neuroplasticity and sensory substitution by the late Paul Bach-y-Rita.


Over his long and distinguished career, Bach-y-Rita developed the BrainPort, a device which translates visual information into tactile stimulation, providing a means for the visually impaired to use their intact sensations of touch to understand the visual world.  Bach-y-Rita’s work was an early indication of the profound capacity for neuroplasticity and helped found the burgeoning study of brain-machine interfaces.


This video clip is 10 minutes from a BBC documentary on the mind.  It described Bach-y-Rita’s research and demonstrated the functioning of the Brian Port.  It also provides the personal back story that motivated Bach-y-Rita’s scientific pursuits.


The video is an excellent introduction to units on sensory perception, neuroplasticity, and/or neurotechnology.  Discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the BrainPort leads naturally to discussion of receptive fields and somatotopy.  Moreover, students often become quite engaged in brainstorming other forms of sensory substitution that could be developed.


For a seminar class, this clip could be used to start discussion of a primary-literature paper on the Brain Port (e.g. Sampaio et al., 2001 is very accessible) or some of the modern work on neuroprosthetics it has inspired (e.g. Thomson et al., 2013).


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Sampaio, E., Maris, S., & Bach-y-Rita, P. (2001). Brain plasticity: “visual” acuity of blind persons via the tongue. Brain research, 908(2), 204–7.

Thomson, E. E., Carra, R., & Nicolelis, M. a. L. (2013). Perceiving invisible light through a somatosensory cortical prosthesis. Nature Communications, 4, 1482. doi:10.1038/ncomms2497