The use of sound by humanity is ubiquitous. We utilise sound across a far greater range than we can hear for numerous extremely beneficial tasks. In Nature many animals have evolved ears, many of which are sensitive to sounds beyond human audibility. This includes an enormous variety of insects whose miniature ears detect sound to communicate, to detect their prey, or to avoid their own predators. Over recent years our understanding of the different insect ear functions, such as frequency filtering, analysis and tuning, has improved greatly. Insect ears can also be far more sensitive than equivalently sized artificial microphones, and have embedded ‘active’ and ‘passive’ functions, for example to actively tune their response, or passively match impedance to ensure sensitivity. However, we still know very little about the mechanical and physiological basis behind these functions.
This project will use our knowledge of how insects hear to inspire the design and prototyping of artificial acoustic sensors. Existing microphones and ultrasonic devices have severe physical sensitivity limitations. This project seeks to change the fundamental approach to sensor design using inspiration from biology, such that previous limitations on size, functionality, power consumption, and robustness are avoided, whilst advancing fundamental understanding of the insect ear’s sensing capacity. The project will take a multi-disciplinary approach, involving biology, engineering, physics and mathematics, exploiting the latest computer simulation and polymeric 3D microfabrication methods to provide incredibly fast design, cost-effective prototyping and analysis.