An overview of Whisker
Whisker is a software suite designed to control devices for behavioural research. These devices include standard "on/off" apparatus used for behavioural research, such as:
- digital input devices (levers, running wheels, infrared detectors, etc.)
- digital output devices (lights, motors, pellet dispensers, dippers, infusion pumps, etc.)
However, unlike most operant control systems, Whisker also supports
- advanced graphical output on multiple computer monitors,
- touchscreen input,
- keyboard and mouse input,
- audio output, and
Tasks for Whisker
Whisker is the underlying platform that runs some of the most popular behavioural tasks and task suites in use today. So, if you want to write your own behavioural tasks, you can do so using Whisker. But you also have the option of using existing tasks written by and for experts in behavioural neuroscience; these tasks are robust, powerful, flexible, extensively tested, and widely used.
Whisker in pictures
This tour of Whisker in pictures will give you an idea of what using Whisker is like.
Publications involving Whisker and related software have featured in journals including the following:
- Nature Neuroscience
- The Journal of Neuroscience
- Cerebral Cortex
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
- Neural Networks
- Behavioral Neuroscience
- Behavioural Brain Research
- Learning and Memory
- European Journal of Neuroscience
- Cognitive Brain Research
- BMC Neuroscience
... and many others.
Whisker is used by academic institutions including:
- McGill University, Canada
- Københavns Universitet (University of Copenhagen), Denmark
- Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin (Freien Universität Berlin & Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), Germany
- Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen (DZNE), Germany
- University of Göttingen, Germany
- Max Planck Institutes, Germany
- University of Regensburg, Germany
- Instituto Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri, Italy
- Biomedical Primate Research Centre, The Netherlands
- University of Minho, Portugal
- Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) Zurich, Switzerland
- University of Cambridge, UK
- University of Cardiff, UK
- University of Exeter in Cornwall, UK (part of the University of Exeter, which is in Devon!)
- University of Exeter, UK
- University of Newcastle, UK
- University of Oxford, UK
- California National Primate Research Center, University of California, Davis, USA
- Harvard Medical School / New England Primate Research Center (NEPRC), USA
- University of Illinois at Chicago, USA
- Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, USA
- University of Massachusetts / University of Massachusetts Medical School, USA
- University of Memphis, USA
- The Salk Institute, USA
- The Scripps Research Institute, USA
- Center for Pregnancy and Newborn Research, University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, USA
- Wake Forest University, USA
... by governmental agencies including:
- Institute of Neuroscience, Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China
- Israel Institute for Biological Research, Israel
- Defence Medical & Environmental Research Institute, Defence Science Organisation (DSO) National Laboratories, Singapore
- Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), UK
- National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), USA
- Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, USA
... and in the corporate sector by companies including:
The Whisker design, and its advantages
The program that controls the hardware (termed the Whisker server) is independent of the programs that implement your chosen task (termed clients). This design has many technical advantages, which make developing your own task much simpler.
- Timing of events such as lever presses is done by the server, with accuracy assured to within the millisecond range.
- You can write clients in any language you like, and even use tasks written in different languages and environments simultaneously (e.g. one client in Visual Basic, another in C++, a third in a custom script language).
- Resources, such as operant chamber devices, are managed for you. The server prevents two clients from gaining access to the same resource.
- Advanced applications are supported; for example, clients may communicate with each other.
- Reliability is ensured. If your client is faulty and crashes, every other task running on your system continues unaffected.
- If you wish to run the same task in six operant chambers or on six touchscreens, you do not need to write a program that handles six chambers simultaneously, but can write your task for a single box and run six copies of your program.
Furthermore, clients can easily be written to do anything else you might wish to do with Windows:
- You can store all your data directly into a database. Whisker comes with a variety of example applications to show you how.
- You can use any device that can be controlled by Windows - you may wish to play videos, use specialist audio / video equipment, or communicate with electrophysiological recorders. Whisker allows you to include any of these alongside the Whisker functions.
- was specifically designed to make behavioural programming simple, reliable, and safe (providing a development kit that automates the creation of simple tasks, incorporating special safety features for critical devices such as infusion pumps, and providing extensive support for testing your tasks);
- is fast (fast enough that you can, if you wish, use your testing computer for other purposes while an experiment is running);
- can be used with a large and expanding library of behavioural tasks. These tasks are portable - they can be used instantly, with any hardware - as soon as the Whisker server is configured.
- runs on cheap, standard hardware (generic PCs, sound, video, and I/O cards);
- uses an industry-standard operating system (Windows NT/2000/XP).
Please explore the site to learn more about Whisker, using the links at the top of this page.