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Biomacromolecules. 2002 Jan-Feb;3(1):106-15.

Biological thermal detection: micromechanical and microthermal properties of biological infrared receptors.

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Department of Materials Science & Engineering, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa 50011, USA.


Bioinspired design of biomimetic sensors relies upon the complete understanding of properties and functioning of biological analogues in conjunction with an understanding of their microstructural organization at various length scales. In the spirit of this approach, the microscopic properties of infrared (IR) receptors of snakes with "infrared vision" were studied with scanning thermal microscopy and micromechanical analysis. Low surface thermal conductivity of 0.11 W/(m K) was measured for the IR receptor surfaces as compared to the nonspecific skin areas. This difference in surface thermal conductivity should result in a significant local temperature gradient around the receptor areas. Micromechanical analysis showed that pit organs were more compliant than surrounding skin areas with an elastic modulus close to 40 MPa. In addition, the maximum elastic modulus was detected for the outermost layer with gradually reduced elastic resistance for the interior. The porous microstructure of the underlying tissue combined with the highly branched microfibrillar network (Biomacromolecules 2001, 2, 757) is thought to be responsible for such a combination of biomaterial properties. Considering these biomaterials features, we postulated a possible design of an artificial photothermal detector inspired by the microstructure of natural receptors. This bioinspired design would include a microfabricated cavity filled with an ordered lattice of microspheres with a gradient periodicity from the surface to the interior. Such a "photonic cavity" could provide an opportunity for multiple scattering at wavelength tuned to 8-12 microm as a range of highest sensitivity.

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