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Contact Information: Tanya Klein Public Relations 973-596-3433

NJIT Swarm Lab Hosts Conference for Northeast Researchers Studying Social Insects

NJIT’s Swarm Lab will host a conference for researchers who study social insects in the northeast of the US on May 24, 2013 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Eberhardt Hall on the NJIT campus.  So far, some 35 researchers from Harvard to Rockefeller universities have expressed interest in attending.  Participants will receive 15 minutes to present information about their current projects and 5 minutes to answer questions. 

“World class labs studying social insects are concentrated in the northeast,” said Simon Garnier, founder of the Swarm Lab and an assistant professor at NJIT in the Federated Department of Biological Sciences.  “It’s easy for people to reach each other and we thought, why not aim for a day of conversation and collegiality.”

At the close of Friday’s presentations, the group will discuss scheduling future meetings.  “It would be great to institute a regular series of meetings at different labs several times a year,” said Garnier.

Garnier joined NJIT as part of its 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.  In short, it is the study of swarm intelligence.

As reported in a recent issue of PLoS Computational Biology, 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.  Their work was featured in 40+ news outlets, including BBC News, National Geographic and the Los Angeles Times.

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 in intelligent collective behaviors in groups of social animals.

Swarm Lab researchers use innovative computer vision techniques in the laboratory and in the field to collect large datasets to 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 effective when applied to the study of collective animal and human behaviors.

One of the nation's leading public technological universities, New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) is a top-tier research university that prepares students to become leaders in the technology-dependent economy of the 21st century. NJIT's multidisciplinary curriculum and computing-intensive approach to education provide technological proficiency, business acumen and leadership skills. With an enrollment of more than 10,000 graduate and undergraduate students, NJIT offers small-campus intimacy with the resources of a major public research university. NJIT is a global leader in such fields as solar research, nanotechnology, resilient design, tissue engineering, and cyber-security, in addition to others. NJIT ranks 5th among U.S. polytechnic universities in research expenditures, topping $110 million, and is among the top 1 percent of public colleges and universities in return on educational investment, according to PayScale.com.