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Science
FRONTIERS
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Wednesday 21:00-21:30
Frontiers explores new ideas in science, meeting the researchers who see the world through fresh eyes and challenge existing theories - as well as hearing from their critics. Many such developments create new ethical and moral questions and Frontiers is not afraid to consider these.
radioscience@bbc.co.uk
LISTEN AGAINListen 30 min
Listen to 7 May
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Wednesday 7 May 2003
Army ant Eciton burchelli
Army ant Eciton burchelli © Nigel Franks

Self-organisation

Although almost blind, army ants deploy pheromones so they can establish traffic lanes. Laden ants returning to the nest occupy the central lane while the ants setting out use the two outer lanes.

Peter Evans talks to Professor Nigel Franks from Bristol University and Dr Iain Couzin from Princeton University. Their research shows ants are making decisions collectively: individual decision-making has become secondary to the welfare of the colony as a whole.

Marco Dorigo at the Université Libre in Brussels extracts algorithms underlying the ants' behaviour. He applies them to real-world telecommunications problems where engineers need to find the most efficient way of routing networks.
Mini-bots sorting two objects in the arena
'Mini-bots' by Intelligent Autonomous Systems Laboratory
© University of West of England

And ants are the inspiration for a new generation of 'low-tech' robots. Peter visits Dr Chris Melhuish at the University of the West of England to see these robots in action.

The question is, will ant behaviour eventually give us insights into other 'emergent' properties? And if so, will they help explain how the neurones in our brain combine to produce intelligence.

Next week: Peter unravels the story of the malaria parasite
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