Research overview


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Diagram of scorpion sensory structuresCurrently our lab is interested in two related but distinct areas of research; how animals detect, process, and use sensory information to move around in their environments and how to translate our knowledge from arthropod sensory biology to navigational tools for human endeavors. By understanding the neural circuitry that underlies the sensory processing behaviors in biological systems, we aim to facilitate better navigation in unmanned vehicles. Due to Dr. Gaffin’s extensive teaching requirements, our lab has focused on undergraduate students for research.

 

 

DSCN0164DSCN0180Primarily, our lab is interested in the sensory biology and homing ability of the desert scorpion, Paruroctonus utahensis, as well as the the local striped bark scorpion, Centruroides vittatus, with a focus on the tools they may use to navigate in their environment (Figure 1).

Several qualities make sand scorpions useful subjects for behavioral and neurophysiological investigations. First, they live in relatively clean sand habitats and excavate home burrows. Second, all scorpions possess several sensory structures allowing them to sense many environmental stimuli. Third, they fluoresce bright green under ultraviolet light, allowing for easy collection. Lastly, these animals are long-lived, easily maintained, and hardy specimens for electrophysiological studies.

 

“Ant portrait.” Creative commons licensed on Flickr by “binux.”

Ant portrait.” Image by binux on Flikr. Used under CC license.

Recently, we have also focused on the navigational strategies used by bees and ants to navigate. Along with our colleagues we have recently shown that a simple vision based algorithm can successfully recapitulate learned routes in simulated environments. It is termed navigation by scene familiarity (NSF). We are currently characterizing important aspects of NSF and testing the feasibility in robots.