Thrust 1: Sensory Modalities

Flying animals assimilate vast amounts of information about a wide range of sensory modalities.  Acquisition of rich, multimodal information is fundamental to animal flight missions such as object locating, navigation, or predator/prey interactions. NIFTI’s sensor modality research focuses on mechanosensation and chemosensation.

Mechanosensation is involved in almost any conceivable behavioral context.  A walking insect’s antennae are used as mechanical “feelers” to provide tactile feedback about nearby objects.  From sound detection to inertial sensing to wind sensing to gravity sensing structures, mechanosensation provides crucial and diverse information to flying animals.  The objectives of NIFTI’s mechanosensory research are to:

  • Characterize the distribution and electrophysiological characteristics of mechanosensory systems used in flight control in wings, abdominal systems, and halteres.
  • Establish genetic tools to reveal multimodal functionality of haltere sensory function.
  • Develop a microelectromechanical system (MEMS) fabrication process that provides the ability to develop scalable clusters of strain sensors with integrated wiring and actuation.

Chemosensation is used to detect and locate sources of an odor, which is an essential behavior for animals in nature. Critical resources such as food, mates, and territories are often located by tracking plumes of volatile chemicals evaporating from their source.  The objectives of NIFTI’s chemosensory research are to:

  • Determine under what conditions temporal versus spatial tracking of a chemical plume takes place.
  • Determine how plasticity and state-dependent effects modify plume tracking behaviors and affect neural coding.