Scientists at Washington University in St. Louis are developing a method that capitalizes on the highly-tuned olfactory senses of locusts to detect the smell of chemicals used in explosives.
Although state-of-the-art miniature chemical-sensing devices only have a handful of sensors, the insect's antennae carry hundreds of thousands of chemical sensors.
Washington University professor Baranidharan Raman received a grant from the U.S. Office of Naval Research to study the locust olfactory system as the basis to develop a bio-hybrid nose. Raman's prior research showed how the insects' brains react to certain smells and can single out odors they have been trained to identify.
The team plans to monitor insect brain activity to determine which chemicals the locusts are detecting during flight.
The locusts' flight path also will be under the control of researchers by attaching a plasmonic "tattoo" of biocompatible silk to the wings. These tattoos will generate mild heat that will steer the locusts by remote control, and collect samples of volatile chemical compounds.
Raman says this biorobotic system could eventually replace the canine olfactory system for some security applications.
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