Science-- there's something for everyone

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Insect tummy rumbles


Igor Sokolov and a team of physicists from Clarkson University have used atomic force microscopy to listen to the inside of insects.

Atomic force microscopy (AFM), also known as scanning force microscopy, permits the visualization of objects 1000 times smaller than light microscopes. In essence, the AFM consists of a tiny probe that feels its way across the surface of the object to be displayed. The surface contours are fed to a detector and then translated into an image. The same technique can be used to pick up extremely high frequency sounds.

The Clarkson team placed an AFM probe on the exoskeleton of various insects and recorded the sounds of their internal organs. The recordings were made at up to 1000 hertz (cycles per second), far greater than the previous attempts (5 hertz) to listen in to insects.

Rendering of a ladybug being recorded by the atomic force microscope (AFM) probe.

Credit: Image courtesy of Clarkson University.

Although the researchers claim that their work could lead to advances in insect control (and who knows, maybe it could), I think they just thought it would be cool to try the AFM on some insects.

You can listen to a few of the recordings here. The three sound files are from a mosquito, a fly and a ladybug respectively. I had to turn the sound all the way up to hear anything from the mosquito, but your ears may be better than mine.