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Beilstein Journal of Nanotechnology (1)
PLoS ONE (1)
Bousack, Herbert (2)
Schmitz, Helmut (2)
Klocke, David (1)
Schmitz, Anke (1)
Soltner, Helmut (1)
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Modelling a Historic Oil-Tank Fire Allows an Estimation of the Sensitivity of the Infrared Receptors in Pyrophilous Melanophila Beetles
Pyrophilous jewel beetles of the genus Melanophila approach forest fires and there is considerable evidence that these beetles can detect fires from great distances of more than 60 km. Because Melanophila beetles are equipped with infrared receptors and are also attracted by hot surfaces it can be concluded that these infrared receptors are used for fire detection.
The sensitivity of the IR receptors is still unknown. The lowest threshold published so far is 0.6 W/m2 which, however, cannot explain the detection of forest fires by IR radiation from distances larger than approximately 10 km. To investigate the possible sensitivity of the IR receptors we assumed that beetles use IR radiation for remote fire detection and we made use of a historic report about a big oil-tank fire in Coalinga, California, in 1924. IR emission of an oil-tank fire can be calculated by “pool fire” simulations which now are used for fire safety and risk analysis. Assuming that beetles were lured to the fire from the nearest forests 25 and 130 km away, our results show that detection from a distance of 25 km requires a threshold of the IR receptors of at least 3×10−2 W/m2. According to our investigations most beetles became aware of the fire from a distance of 130 km. In this case the threshold has to be 1.3×10−4 W/m2. Because such low IR intensities are buried in thermal noise we suggest that the infrared sensory system of Melanophila beetles utilizes stochastic resonance for the detection of weak IR radiation. Our simulations also suggest that the biological IR receptors might be even more sensitive than uncooled technical IR sensors. Thus a closer look into the mode of operation of the Melanophila IR receptors seems promising for the development of novel IR sensors.
Infrared receptors in pyrophilous (“fire loving”) insects as model for new un-cooled infrared sensors
Beilstein Journal of Nanotechnology
Beetles of the genus Melanophila and certain flat bugs of the genus Aradus actually approach forest fires. For the detection of fires and of hot surfaces the pyrophilous species of both genera have developed infrared (IR) receptors, which have developed from common hair mechanoreceptors. Thus, this type of insect IR receptor has been termed photomechanic and shows the following two special features: (i) The formation of a complex cuticular sphere consisting of an outer exocuticular shell as well as of a cavernous microfluidic core and (ii) the enclosure of the dendritic tip of the mechanosensitive neuron inside the core in a liquid-filled chamber. Most probably a photomechanic IR sensillum acts as a microfluidic converter of infrared radiation which leads to an increase in internal pressure inside the sphere, which is measured by a mechanosensitive neuron.
A simple model for this biological IR sensor is a modified Golay sensor in which the gas has been replaced by a liquid. Here, the absorbed IR radiation results in a pressure increase of the liquid and the deflection of a thin membrane. For the evaluation of this model analytical formulas are presented, which permits the calculation of the pressure increase in the cavity, the deformation of the membrane and the time constant of an artificial leak to compensate ambient temperature changes. Some organic liquids with high thermal expansion coefficients may improve the deflection of the membrane compared to water.
fire detection; forest fire; Golay cell; infrared sensor; pyrophilous insects
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