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Mayfly-Mimicking Sensor to Replace Proverbial Canary in the Coal Mine
Date:6/19/2008

Bio-inspired engineering research may improve sensors in stagnant environments

COLLEGE PARK, Md., June 19 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Security, health and safety sensors in coal mines, buildings or underground public transit areas where air or water does not readily flow may one day be improved by research on young mayflies at the University of Maryland's A. James Clark School of Engineering.

Mechanical engineers Ken Kiger and Elias Balaras and entomologist Jeffrey Shultz at the University of Maryland have identified a biological mechanism in the young mayflies that could enable sensors in stagnant environments to make air or water flow past them so they can detect harmful substances.

Young aquatic mayflies, or "nymphs," enhance their respiration using gills. They do this by creating a flow of fresh water with the help of seven pairs of nearby gill plates that flap like a Venetian blind. The flow of fresh water is generated by the plate's motion, directing water to the mayfly's gills as efficiently as possible.

"By duplicating the action of the mayfly gill plates in a tiny robotic device, we hope to create a flow of air or water to sensors in stagnant environments, so they can operate more effectively," Kiger said.

Working with the University's Department of Entomology, Kiger, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, is exploring how the mayfly's gill plates work, and how to make a robotic version. The researchers are currently duplicating and measuring the gill plate movement in a virtual computer model.

The researchers are also taking a closer look into something that scientists have known for a long time: at a sufficiently small size, an object is less affected by inertia than it is by the thickness (viscosity) of the water it is travelling through.

For example, consider a canoe in comparison to a mayfly. As it travels through the water, the canoe produces a current, which will continue to ripple thr
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SOURCE A. James Clark School of Engineering
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