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.
Last summer, we conducted a series of experiments designed to discover how turtle ants move within a tree-like branching structure, and how individual movement choices lead to collective decisions about where to nest within that structure. We now have a good understanding of how individual ants make choices at branching junctions; the next step will be to describe how these choices are modified when many ants are exploring together, potentially in the presence of competitors.
Project 1: Test and improve our existing software pipeline, which uses computer vision to automatically track ant movement from videos taken in the lab.
Project 2: Model collective exploration and nest choice, using agent-based simulations, differential equation models and/or network approaches.
Project 3: Plan and perform pilot studies for the next set of experiments, to be conducted over the summer
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. This project has connections to the study of complex systems and artificial intelligence, and has potential applications to the development of computational optimization algorithms. 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. The work is funded by the National Science Foundation, and could lead to funded travel opportunities including an ant collecting trip to the Florida Keys or summer research at the University of York.