A multidisciplinary team at the University of Bristol have used funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to explore the workings of the 'ears' of a locust. These are micrometre thick membranes with complex and varying structural properties. The thickness of the membrane varies at different points and this affects how it responds to sounds and in the case of ambient noise the team have discovered the membrane oscillates by only a few nanometres. The thickness of a human hair is about 80,000 nanometres across.
Professor Daniel Robert is the research leader at Bristol: "We have found that different sound frequencies elicit very different mechanical responses in the locust hearing system. By studying these tiny nanoscale movements and understanding how sound waves are turned into mechanical responses we may be able to develop microphones based on the functions of natural hearing. These could detect very faint sounds and analyse their frequency, something that current microphones cannot pick up."
The research team is also using nanotechnology techniques to study the hearing of mosquitoes. By employing Laser Doppler Vibrometry and Atomic Force Microscopy Professor Robert's team are able to accurately measure the tiny nanoscale movements of a mosquito antenna as it responds to sound and then create a 3D map of its profile and properties.
Professor Robert explained: "Mosquitoes hear through their antenna and this comprises around 15,000 sensory cells, as many as in the human ear. We have found that just like humans, mosquitoes have the capacity for active hearing. This means that they can generate their own vibrations to amplify inco
Contact: Matt Goode
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council