professors are working to train rats, wearing tiny backpacks and wireless transmitters, to ferret out hidden land mines.
If it sounds like a scheme hatched on a barroom napkin, it is.
Joe Tranquillo, associate professor of biomedical and electrical engineering, laughs that he and Kevin Myers, associate professor of psychology, have been concocting ideas to use animals for complex tasks for years over drinks.
So, when invited by Coherent Technical Services
, a Maryland-based defense contractor, to team up for a small contract to design and develop a method for using rats to signal the presence of land mines, it was a perfect fit. "It’s at the funny boundary of our discipline, a behavioral challenge as well as a technical challenge," says Tranquillo.
In his lab at Bucknell, Myers is training rats to respond to the scent of land mines in a process similar to how bomb-sniffing dogs are trained. Important to note: the rats are too light to trip the mines. Instead, they are trained to spin in circles, an atypical behavior, when their highly developed olfactory sense picks up the distinctive odor given off by explosives.
Tranquillo, working with student Matt Young, Jr., is developing the electrical, mechanical and thermal technology and software to track the rats.
The team is awaiting word on funding for a second phase of the project, which would give them three years to build five prototypes. A third, five-year contract would allow for commercialization, benefiting Bucknell, which owns a share of the intellectual property.
Source: Joe Tranquillo, Bucknell University
Writer: Elise Vider