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What do ant colonies and railroad systems have in common? Both serve to transport goods and individuals from place to place, and need to balance the often competing goals of doing so efficiently and at low cost, while also remaining robust to potential disruptions to the network. We are currently working to understand how simple organisms can work together in groups to create and maintain such transportation networks, using a multidisciplinary combination of field and laboratory experiments with turtle ants, along with mathematical and computational models.
A key part of this work is to describe the behavior of turtle ants as they explore trees and collectively choose new nests within those trees. How do individual ants decide which way to turn when they reach a branching point? Do ants communicate about their discoveries, either indirectly via pheromones or directly by following one another? How do groups of ants choose new nests and create pathways for transporting resources between them? How are these decisions impacted by the presence of competing ant colonies? To answer these questions, we have been conducting experiments with turtle ants in the laboratory, and comparing their behavior to mathematical and computational models. This summer, we will focus on competitive interactions between ant colonies.
Project 1: Plan, perform and analyze experiments on ant nest choice and competition
Project 2: Model collective exploration, foraging and/or nest choice, using agent-based simulations, differential equation models and/or network approaches.
Essay Prompt: What interests you about these projects and what do you hope to gain from the research experience? What makes you a good fit for one or more of these projects?
You will be part of a team of students working on a set of related interdisciplinary projects, using mathematics, computation and engineering to solve problems of biological interest. The variety of techniques and approaches will give you an opportunity to explore your interests and develop new skills. The project is part of a larger NSF-funded collaborative research project, so you will interact with a larger research group including graduate students and postdoctoral researchers at George Washington University and the University of York. There may be opportunities to continue the work in a senior thesis, present at a regional or national conference, and/or co-author future publications stemming from ongoing work.