Feature Stories

Professor Gets National Attention for Studying the Problem-Solving Abilities of Ants

Simon Garnier, an animal behavior expert at NJIT, did a well-received study on the problem-solving abilities of ants.

Simon Garnier, NJIT Assistant Professor in the Federated Department of Biological Sciences (College of Science and Liberal Arts), has been recently featured in several major media outlets for his work on bio-inspired robotic swarms.

As reported in the latest issue of PLoS Computational Biology, Simon Garnier and researchers from the Research Center on Animal Cognition (CNRS, France) have successfully replicated the behavior of a colony of ants on the move with the use of miniature robots. Their work aimed to discover how individual ants, when part of a moving colony, orient themselves in the labyrinth like pathways that stretch from their nest to various food sources. They used colonies of ant-like robots to test out hypotheses about the navigation capabilities of Argentine ants.

Simon Garnier, who has undergraduate degrees in biochemistry and cellular biology, and post-graduate degrees in neuroscience and ethology, has published widely on research in fields that include ethology, experimental psychology, cognitive and social sciences and swarm intelligence. He is interested mainly in the emergence of intelligent collective behaviors in groups of social animals.

Simon Garnier joined NJIT as part of it’s cross disciplinary faculty initiative and has created the Swarm Lab, an interdisciplinary research lab that studies the mechanisms underlying the coordination of large animal groups, such as ant colonies or human crowds, and their applications to complex problems such the organization of pedestrian traffic or the control of robotic swarms. The Swarm Lab studies how information is exchanged and transformed during interactions between the members of a group, and how this can lead to the emergence of "intelligent" group behaviors.

Simon and the rest of the Swarm Lab make extensive use of innovative computer vision techniques in the laboratory and in the field to collect large datasets that support the design of data-driven models.  They believe that theoretical and experimental work should proceed together and emulate each other as much as possible. This approach has proven to be very efficient when applied to the study of collective animal and human behaviors.

At NJIT, Simon created a course (BIOL 225) that covers the basics of collective animal behavior and swarm intelligence. In this course, students have the opportunity to learn about the emergence and evolution of sociality, and to understand the mechanisms that shape information transfer in animal societies and human social networks.

Simon Garnier believes that education is not restricted to the classroom and participates regularly in general public science events to promote communication between scientists and non-scientists. He also meets regularly with junior high and high school students to share his passion for animal behavior or counsel them on careers in science.

The Swarm Lab at NJIT

We are an interdisciplinary research lab that studies the mechanisms underlying the coordination of large animal groups, such as ant colonies or human crowds, and their applications to complex problems such the organization of pedestrian traffic or the control of robotic swarms. We study how information is exchanged and transformed during interactions between the members of a group, and how this can lead to the emergence of "intelligent" group behaviors. In short, we study Swarm Intelligence.