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Shape recognition and classification in electro-sensing

Ammari, Habib, Boulier, Thomas, Garnier, Josselin, Wang, Han
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2014 v.111 no.32 pp. 11652-11657
cell membranes, electric field, fish
This paper aims at advancing the field of electro-sensing. It exhibits physical mechanisms underlying shape perception for weakly electric fish. These fish orient themselves at night in complete darkness by using their active electrolocation system. They generate a stable, relatively high-frequency, weak electric field and perceive the transdermal potential modulations caused by a nearby target with different electromagnetic properties than the surrounding water. The main result of this paper is a scheme that explains how weakly electric fish might identify and classify a target, knowing in advance that the latter belongs to a certain collection of shapes. The scheme is designed to recognize living biological organisms. It exploits the frequency dependence of the electromagnetic properties of living organisms, which comes from the capacitive effects generated by the cell membrane structure. When measurements are taken at multiple frequencies, the fish might use the spectral content of the perceived transdermal potential modulations to classify the living target.