Ant colonies are complex biological systems. Understanding how ants work and who tells them to invade our picnics has been the subject of centuries of speculation and a few Hollywood movies. Despite the presence of a "queen," there is no centralized control system. Also, ants are not genetically hard wired to robotically complete pre-defined tasks in response to chemical signals (ants change roles). Yet ants efficiently perform a variety of coordinated tasks like nest construction, caring for larvae, pupae transportation, fighting and raiding our cupboards. How do ants know what to do and when to do it?
Stanford professor Deborah Gordon has long been interested in complex systems that operate without central control. †At our February cafe, Gordon will share the insights she has gathered while deciphering ant colony communication. She will also discuss colony life-cycles and how interaction networks among individual ants determines the behavior of the entire colony.
Gordon is a professor and research scientist in Stanford's Department of Biology. She has spent considerable time in the field, including over 25 years observing the same set of harvester ant colonies in the Arizona desert. She has a recently published book (Ant Encounters: Interaction Networks and Colony Behavior) and was awarded the Walter J. Gores award for teaching excellence. She received her MSc from Stanford and PhD in zoology from Duke.