Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Forest Fire Sensor Inspired By Nature; Bonn Zoologists 'Copy' A Beetle's Monitoring Device

Date:
July 29, 2004
Source:
University Of Bonn
Summary:
They are what fire fighters have long been calling for: low-cost and highly sensitive infrared sensors that automatically monitor large forest areas and trigger an early warning in the event of fire.

Dr. Helmut Schmitz (left) and Martin Mueller with the sensor prototype.
Credit: Photo Franc Luerweg/University of Bonn

They are what fire fighters have long been calling for: low-cost and highly sensitive infrared sensors that automatically monitor large forest areas and trigger an early warning in the event of fire. Zoologist at the University of Bonn have taken an important step towards this goal. They have constructed a forest fire sensor which could be produced more cheaply than commercially available infrared detectors, although it is not yet as sensitive. In identifying a principle of measurement previously unknown in nature and in technology, the scientists have taken the idea from a small insect: the jewel beetle, which lays its eggs in the wood of freshly burned trees, is said to be able to detect forest fires from a distance of 80 kilometres. The biologists now want to perform more tests on their little model to determine the limits of this new method of measurement.

This "fire beetle" loves burnt wood: immediately after woodland blazes the females fly in from far and wide, climb up the trees and lay their eggs in the smouldering bark. Since most other insect species tend to avoid freshly scorched areas, the jewel beetle larvae can develop with hardly any competition. The adult insects owe their sense of burning to clever sensory organs located on their underside. These organs are pits containing a large number of receptors ("sensilla") that are extremely responsive precisely to the infrared (IR) radiation that comes from a forest fire.

"Interestingly, these infrared feelers are modified mechanosensors," explains Bonn zoologist Dr. Helmut Schmitz, "and present us with a completely novel method of monitoring IR radiation." The finger-shaped protrusion of an individual mechanoreceptor is inserted in a tiny sphere made of "cuticula" - the same material that forms an insect's armour. The cuticula sphere surrounds the pressure-sensitive "finger" like a clamp. "Now, our jewel beetle's cuticula is particular good at absorbing thermal radiation with a wavelength of about three micrometers - exactly the radiation that is typically emitted by a fierce forest fire. So when a fire occurs the sphere heats up, expands and, in this way, directly stimulates the mechanoreceptor," says the research scientist. Since the atmosphere is pervious to infrared at these wavelengths, the insects can identify potential breeding grounds from a long distance.

Assisted by his doctoral candidate Martin Mόller, Schmitz has reconstructed the sensor using the simplest of components. Instead of the cuticula sphere, the replica uses a polyethylene platelet. Polyethylene absorbs infrared radiation in a similar spectrum as cuticula and also expands in response. This expansion is measured by the scientists. "The whole thing already works quite well, although commercially available IR sensors are better by a factor of 100," says Schmitz, who is nevertheless convinced of that the system can be perfected: "With our simple prototype we are only at the beginning of what is possible." The zoologist is currently looking for industrial partners to work out the specifications of his sensor and mature the technology.

To determine where the limits of this monitoring principle lie he also wants to make precise measurements of his biological model. "There are indications in the literature that the jewel beetle has detected forest fires from distances of up to 80 kilometres; but the data has never been checked and therefore remains unsound." In any case, the beetle is only the starting point: "Our aim is to test all known infrared-sensitive animals to find out how sensitive their sense of thermal radiation is." However, this gift does not appear to be very common in the animal kingdom. Apart from three species of beetle, so far scientists only know of some snakes - the pit viper and giant constrictor - that have genuine IR-sensing organs. In fact, since the beginning of last year a snake experts, Dr. Guido Westhoff, has been collaborating with Helmut Schmitz at Bonn's Institute of Zoology. He is examining the heat sense of reptiles in a project funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). Nowhere else in the world are all the known IR-sensitive animals being studied under the roof of one research institute.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Bonn. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Bonn. "Forest Fire Sensor Inspired By Nature; Bonn Zoologists 'Copy' A Beetle's Monitoring Device." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 July 2004. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/07/040729092403.htm>.
University Of Bonn. (2004, July 29). Forest Fire Sensor Inspired By Nature; Bonn Zoologists 'Copy' A Beetle's Monitoring Device. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/07/040729092403.htm
University Of Bonn. "Forest Fire Sensor Inspired By Nature; Bonn Zoologists 'Copy' A Beetle's Monitoring Device." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/07/040729092403.htm (accessed April 23, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Leopard Bites Man in India

Raw: Leopard Bites Man in India

AP (Apr. 22, 2014) — A leopard caused panic in the city of Chandrapur on Monday when it sprung from the roof of a house and charged at rescue workers. (April 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Iowa College Finds Beauty in Bulldogs

Iowa College Finds Beauty in Bulldogs

AP (Apr. 22, 2014) — Drake University hosts 35th annual Beautiful Bulldog Contest. (April 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
805-Pound Shark Caught Off The Coast Of Florida

805-Pound Shark Caught Off The Coast Of Florida

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) — One Florida fisherman caught a 805-pound shark off the coast of Florida earlier this month. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Breakfast Foods Are Getting Pricier

Breakfast Foods Are Getting Pricier

AP (Apr. 21, 2014) — Breakfast is now being served with a side of sticker shock. The cost of morning staples like bacon, coffee and orange juice is on the rise because of global supply problems. (April 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins