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Follow your Nose: The Dynamics of Olfactory Guided Search

Event Category:
Mathematical and Computational Biology Seminar
G. Bard Ermentrout
University of Pittsburgh

Olfaction (the sense of smell) is the oldest of our sensory modalities and has been used for millions of years for animals to find mates, find food, avoid predators, etc. In a large multi-investigator collaboration, we have begun to try to understand the algorithms animals use to navigate complex odor landscapes. I will describe several simple algorithms that use local spatial and temporal information about the odor to locate its source. The algorithms fall into two simple categories: differences between two sensors and differences between two different samples. With data from trail-following and spot finding by mice, I attempt to assess the different strategies and how parameters in the strategies affect performance. I also test the algorithms on odor plumes imaged by my collaborators and also in a mobile robot.

Underlying these simple algorithms are some interesting nonlinear dynamics. I will discuss the continuous dynamics of binaral search where the organism uses the concentration differences between two sensors to steer toward the source. Depending on the odor environment, various types of complex dynamics emerge including stable fixed points, periodic orbits, torii, and chaos.

I will show the role of “noise” on improving the algorithms and how it can be leveraged as a search strategy by exploring a first passage time problem applied to spot finding. I will also show a kind of stochastic resonance can occur in real odor plumes.

Monday, April 10, 2023 - 11:00am