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For Immediate Release
April 6, 2011

For more information, contact
David Mihalyov
(585) 395-2577
dmihalyo@brockport.edu

Ants Doing What They Do Best

Scholars Day presentation explores an ants search for food

Brockport, NY – The foraging strategies of ants might not be the first research idea that comes to mind to most mathematicians, but for Peter Kosek ’12, it was the perfect topic for his Scholars Day presentation.

Peter, a math major, was first exposed to this study through a summer research program he attended last summer at the University of Utah. The program in mathematical biology, funded by the National Science Foundation, studied how ants make decisions.

“This is a fascinating topic because there is no central control system telling each ant what to do,” Peter said. “Somehow, each ant knows exactly what its job is even though they don't know the overall goal, yet they are still able to work together very effectively to keep ant hills alive for up to 20 years. Clearly they are doing something right.”

Peter’s project stems from the book Ants at Work by Deborah Gordon. The goal of this project was to create a computer simulation, using a program called Matlab, which accurately depicted how ants forage for food.

“We were looking for the best conditions for ants to maximize the amount of food they find,” Peter said. “The simulation shows ‘ants’ as they wander around a given space looking for food.”

The simulation determines the probability of finding food based on several criteria, such as ant interaction, food memory, foraging territory, and the amount of food in a given area. One of the interesting factors that needed to be included was that no matter how random and convoluted an ant’s path was while searching for food, once the food was found the ant knew exactly where it was in relation to the colony and returned via a direct line.

Scholars Day is intended to publicize research, share new ideas and concepts, expand knowledge, and provide an opportunity to socialize with members of the campus community outside of one’s own department.

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