June 12, 2009
The role of the skin on our fingertips, palm and soles of the feet is to grip other objects, and they all have characteristic “friction” ridges. Nevertheless, very little research has been carried out about how well fingers perform, how friction is achieved and why we have soft fingerpads with fingerprints at all. Recent research carried out in the laboratory of the University of Manchester suggests that finger skin has frictional properties rather like rubber.
|Why do we have fingerprints?
The most likely possible answers are:
1) Fingerprints may increase friction on rough materials;
New British research indicates that the first option can be deleted from the list. Researcher Dr. Roland Ennos explains his findings below:
“I have been thinking about this for years and, having played around with it for a bit, realised that skin is rubbery so the ridges in fingerprints might actually reduce grip.
Our experiments – using a plastic cup, weights and strips of Perspex (acrylic glass) to develop a simple machine in the lab – proved me right.
The experiment was so simple, this discovery could have been made 100 years ago; but scientists make assumptions and tend to look at complicated things instead.
We are now testing that theory and two others, that fingerprints improve grip on rough surfaces and that they increase sensitivity.
There are potential spin-offs for this work. For example some people who suffer nerve damage that prevents sweating have slippery fingers and cannot grip: we could develop something to treat that.”
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