Biomimetic sensors

Researchers aim to copy the way that young mayflies respirate to build a device that will allow sensors to be deployed where air or water is stagnant.


Young aquatic mayflies, or ‘nymphs’, enhance their respiration by creating a flow of fresh water with the help of seven pairs of gill plates that flap like a Venetian blind. The water generated by the plates’ motion is directed to their gills as efficiently as possible.


By duplicating the action of the mayfly gill plates in a tiny robotic device, mechanical engineers Ken Kiger and Elias Balaras and entomologist Jeffrey Shultz at the at the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering hope to create a flow of air or water to sensors in stagnant environments, so they can operate more effectively.


Working with the University’s Department of Entomology, Kiger, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, is exploring how the mayfly’s gill plates work, duplicating and measuring the gill plate movement in a virtual computer model. The next step will be to construct the tiny robot to reproduce the gill action of the nymph.


Such a mechanism could be installed in sensors intended to detect unhealthy air in otherwise stagnant areas, such as in subway stations or mines.


The researchers’ work has been supported by the US National Science Foundation.