Acoustic Receivers: From Insect Ear to Next-Generation Sensor

This Picture1bproject will investigate the operation of tympanal insect ears from an engineering viewpoint in order to inspire future artificial microphone and acoustic sensor development. It initially concentrates on the locust ear, which is known to function as a spatial frequency analyser (in a manner similar to that of the human basilar membrane), seeking to analyse the physical mechanism that produces this characteristic. The physical dimensions and material properties of the tympanal membrane of the locust’s ear are known, and experimental methods have measured the motion of the membrane due to incident sound.Picture2

This project uses three-dimensional models of the tympanal ear, implemented in COMSOL, to simulate and analyse the interaction between the ear membrane and an incident sound pressure. The membrane has a very high aspect ratio (micron thickness to millimetre diameter), requiring very high numbers of mesh elements, and therefore large amounts of memory (and cores) to run. This project will allow a number of variables, including sound frequency, amplitude, and membrane dimensions, to be analysed in our work to understand the mechanical interaction that results in the spatial frequency response seen in the biological system.

Finite element models will also be used to analyse the dynamic acoustic response of the structures present within the hearing systems of other insects. This will use three dimensional morphological information and mechanical material properties measured in concurrent work on the insect ears.


Biological systems will always have both variation (due to age, sex, size etc.), and also complexity across a range of length scales, such that it is impossible to characterise the system 100%. Therefore the purpose of the modelling and simulation work within this this project is not to generate absolute models of the systems being characterised. Rather, it will produce useful data that can both aid our understanding of how these biological systems work, and also be applied to the future design of new sensors, furthering concepts and ideas for the inspiration of the artificial sensors (and transducers) from biological knowledge.

For more information about the project contact Dr James Windmill (james.windmill [at] strath [dot] ac [dot] uk) Reader at the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at the University of Strathclyde.

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