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The biology of human skin wetness sensing and its implications for health and technological innovation

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Reference number: SDCA/DF2020SKINWETNESS
Start date: 1 July or 1 October 2020 or 1 Jan 2021
Application deadline: 1 May 2020
3 years full-time
Primary supervisor: Dr Davide Filingeri

The aim of this project is to investigate what sensory signals our brain uses to detect wetness on the skin, and to map regional differences in wetness sensitivity across the body. This will be achieved by performing somatosensory experiments involving healthy individuals exposed to a variety of stimuli applied to their skin and by monitoring their perceptual and neurophysiological responses.

Full project detail

Humans do not possess a specific wetness receptor on their skin, yet our ability to perceive the contact with water is a very well-developed sensory attribute (e.g. we sense the tiniest drops of rain falling on our skin). Sensing skin wetness is important for thermal and clothing comfort, but also for precision gripping and hand function (e.g. we automatically adjust the grip on a wet glass to prevent it from falling). In the past 6 years, Dr Davide Filingeri has provided extensive evidence on the peripheral mechanisms that allow our brain to sense wet stimuli, thereby approaching an answer to the long-standing question “why wet feels wet?”. Yet, these recent discoveries have opened to more fundamental questions, i.e. what is the role of inputs from cold- and mechano-receptors in the skin in the perception of wetness? Could there in fact be a skin wetness receptor in humans? Where in the brain are these inputs processed to generate a perception of wetness?

Supervision and training

The project will be conducted under the primary supervision of Dr Davide Filingeri. Over the past 6 years, Dr Filingeri has generated the most novel and cutting-edge knowledge on how humans sense temperature and wetness across the skin, and he has developed the world’s first neurophysiological model explaining how humans sense skin wetness without a hygroreceptor, positioning himself as an international leader in this field. This project builds on these breakthroughs in human thermal and wetness sensing and their unique application to improve the design of products for which the management of skin wetness is a key determinant of consumers’ acceptability and performance (e.g. sport garments, absorbent materials).

Successful applicants will use a combination of neurophysiological and psychophysical methods in human-based thermoregulatory research, and will be based at the THERMOSENSELAB (, within the Environmental Ergonomics Research Centre. At THERMOSENSELAB we have a track record of conducting human research on the somatosensory function of the skin, and applicants will be provided with specialist training in thermosensory and thermoregulatory research methods. Our projects are often conducted in collaboration with international industry partners, providing for additional networking and career development opportunities.


The fundamental insights developed during this PhD will expand our basic understanding of the sensory function of the human skin, and they will be relevant for both clinical and technological innovations. Clinically, these findings will be important as it could clarify the roots of sensory symptom such as phantom wetness sensations experienced by people affected by the neurological disease Multiple Sclerosis. Technologically, these findings will help guiding the design of sensory protheses (e.g. reproducing a sense of skin wetness on the hands of amputees) and will help improving the development of more comfortable sport and protective clothing.

Entry requirements

Students will normally need to hold, or expect to gain, at least a 2:1 degree (or equivalent) in Human Biology, Neuroscience, Psychology, or Sport and Exercise Science. A relevant Master’s degree in one of the following areas will be an advantage: Human Physiology, Cognitive Neuroscience, Biomedical Sciences. Research experience with clinical or non-clinical participants will also be an advantage.

How to apply

All applications should be made online:

Under school/department name, select 'Design'. Please quote reference SDCA/DF2020SKINWETNESS.

The deadline for applications is 1 May 2020.


• Valenza A, Bianco A, Filingeri D. Thermosensory mapping of skin wetness sensitivity across the body of young males and females at rest and following maximal incremental running. Journal of Physiology 597:3315-3332 (2019)
• Filingeri, D., Redortier, B., Hodder, S. & Havenith, G. Thermal and tactile interactions in the perception of local skin wetness at rest and during exercise in thermo-neutral and warm environments. Neuroscience 258, 121–130 (2014)
• Filingeri D, Fournet D, Hodder S, Havenith G. Why wet feels wet? A neurophysiological model of human cutaneous wetness sensitivity. Journal of Neurophysiology; 112:1457-1469 (2014)

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