Prof. Bard Ermentrout is part of a group that has received a grant that is funded through the US Brain Initiative: Cracking the Olfactory Code. It involves 7 investigators from 6 institutions for a total of 6.3 million dollars. More >
Below is lay description of the research they propose to work on.
Almost universally, from flies to mice to dogs, animals use odors to locate valuable resources, such as food, shelter and mates. The mechanisms by which animals use their olfactory systems to find odor sources is not well understood; moreover, no engineered devices come close to replicating the performance of animals in these tasks. In fact, people still rely on animals to perform difficult chemical detection tasks: dogs to search for contraband in airports and find lost children, pigs to find truffles and rats to detect landmines.This interdisciplinary project will demonstrate how animals solve these problems, enabling us to use this knowledge to solve real-world problems. Mathematical models and algorithms emerging from the proposed research have the potential to be of significant importance to national security and law enforcement, as the project’s results may lead to improved methods for the detection of explosives, olfactory robots to replace trained animals, and advances in robotic control. Finally, the project could directly inform the development of technologies that interfere with the ability of flying insects (including disease vectors and crop pests) to locate their odor target, thus opening a new door for developing ‘green’ technologies to solve problems that are of global economic and humanitarian importance.