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Researchers develop flow sensors based on hair structures of blind cavefish
Date:3/24/2009

A blind fish that has evolved a unique technique for sensing motion may inspire a new generation of sensors that perform better than current active sonar.

Although members of the fish species Astyanax fasciatus cannot see, they sense their environment and the movement of water around them with gel-covered hairs that extend from their bodies. Their ability to detect underwater objects and navigate through their lightless environment inspired a group of researchers to mimic the hairs of these blind cavefish in the laboratory.

While the fish use these hairs to detect obstacles, avoid predators and localize prey, researchers believe the engineered sensors they are developing could have a variety of underwater applications, such as port security, surveillance, early tsunami detection, autonomous oil rig inspection, autonomous underwater vehicle navigation, and marine research.

"These hair cells are like well-engineered mechanical sensors, similar to those that we use for balance and hearing in the human ear, where the deflection of the jelly-encapsulated hair cell measures important flow information," said Vladimir Tsukruk, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Materials Science and Engineering. "The hairs are better than active sonar, which requires a lot of space, sends out strong acoustic signals that can have a detrimental effect on the environment, and is inappropriate for stealth applications."

In a presentation on March 20 at the American Physical Society meeting, researchers from Georgia Tech described their engineered motion detector that mimics the underwater flow measurements made by the blind cavefish. This research was sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Tsukruk and graduate students Michael McConney and Kyle Anderson conducted preliminary experiments with a simple artificial hair cell microsensor made of SU-8, a common epoxy-based polymer capable of solidifying,
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Contact: Abby Vogel
avogel@gatech.edu
404-385-3364
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News
Source:Eurekalert  

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