Two pioneering research projects involving scientists from the School of Life Sciences are featured in a major public exhibition by The Royal Society.
The Royal Society’s prestigious Summer Science Exhibition, which runs from 1st July to 6th July, 2014, is the organisation’s premier public engagement event of the year, showcasing cutting-edge science and technology research in accessible and exciting ways.
Academics will be revealing their ground-breaking work into insect sensory biology and the training of working dogs.
Dr Fernando Montealegre-Zapata from the University of Lincoln and Professor Daniel Robert from the University of Bristol are showcasing their research into the complex hearing mechanisms of insects.
Together with colleagues from Bristol, Dr Montealegre-Z discovered a previously unidentified hearing organ in the South American bushcrickets’ ear. This breakthrough could pave the way for technological advancements in bio-inspired acoustic sensors research, including microphones and cochlear implants.
Their exhibition allows visitors to experience how a Jurassic-era cricket used to sing and a hands-on demonstration will also enable people to hear what a cricket actually hears.
Dr Montealegre-Z said: “This exhibit will allow us to immerse visitors in the world of insect hearing, giving them the opportunity to find out how hearing works at the micro-scale, what exactly it is that insects hear, and how this helps them to find their prey, avoid predators and attract mates.”
Professor Daniel Mills and Helen Zulch, from the School of Life Sciences, and Dr Emile van der Zee from the School of Psychology, are partners in a project with The Open University. Their exhibit focusses on dog-friendly interactive technology used to support or enhance the performance of working dogs which help humans.
Increasingly dogs are humans’ trusted working partners in a wide range of important jobs, such as assisting disabled people, playing crucial roles in military operations, detecting and managing life-threatening medical conditions, or rescuing stranded and injured people.
The Open University Animal-Computer Interaction Lab is currently focussed on designing interactive technologies from a canine perspective. The exhibit showcases prototypes of technologies such as an electronic light-switch designed for assistance dogs; an interface allowing cancer detection dogs to express levels of confidence when assessing biological samples; and an alarm system allowing medical alert dogs to summon help for their assisted humans. Dogs from research partners Dogs for the Disabled and Medical Detection Dogs are also demonstrating the technologies.
Professor Mills said: “This exhibit is a great example of truly interdisciplinary science that has a real impact on society. Dogs were the first species to be domesticated and their partnership with humans is unique. Our work shows how we can use modern technology to help maximise the potential of the partnership and the value that dogs can bring to society.”