Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Science Club Events - 20 February 2014

Science Club Events - Lent 2014
20 February 2014 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (W129)

All roads lead to the mound

Dr. Simon Garnier

Photo by Simon Garnier: www.theswarmlab.com

Let's face it, the prospect of being invaded by a swarm of ants is not everyone's cup. And camouflage, whilst effective against many visual predators, will not defeat the ants' keen sense of smell, as this Mozambique nightjar had to experience

However, some people are absolutely fascinated by ants and our next speaker, Dr. Simon Garnier from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, is one of them. Simon heads the Swarm lab, a group of researchers interested in understanding which mechanisms organisms use to coordinate the movements of large groups. This is a highly interdisciplinary task which has also many exciting applications, from traffic control problems to guiding swarms of robots and even solving crime scene problems. 

Simon's groups uses various study systems, from slime moulds to ants, to ungulate mixed species herds, to robots, but in his talk this week he will focus on how ants manage to set up efficient transportation networks.

Like the Roman Empire at its peak, a successful ant colony relies on an effective network of roads that facilitate the movement of its powerful army and industrious population across a vast territory. Fifty years ago, E. O. Wilson discovered the chemical nature of these transportation networks comprised of pheromone trails laid by the colony's workers. His work paved the way for five decades of study on the incredibly efficient organization of ant colonies, based on simple behaviours, multiple interactions and powerful scents. 

In this talk, I will review recent discoveries from field, experimental and theoretical works on the construction and functioning of ant transportation networks. I will highlight the latest findings on traffic organization along ant chemical trails, the topology and geometry of these networks, and the development of support structures on uneven terrains. 
Image by Kaitlyn Colhouer: www.kcolhouer.wordpress.com

Finally, I will discuss prospective applications of the ants' "chemical logic" in operation research and collective robotics, with a particular focus on the flexibility of ant trail systems and their ability to integrate and process multiple sources of information.

Everyone most welcome to attend. You might learn about Swarm Intelligence, Swarm Stupidity (no, not sure either what this is - we'll have to ask Simon!), and maybe even new tricks to better deal with those little visitors during your pick-nick: 

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