Feeds

Blobs that swarm spark ‘it’s alive’ hypegasm

The mathematics of flocking

Intelligent flash storage arrays

A group of scientists led by New York University’s Jérémie Palacci has demonstrated the swarming behaviour of clickbait headline-writers by showing off inanimate objects that swarm a little like living cells.

It’s not even close to life – as Palacci himself tells New Scientist, “even though the particles have no social interaction or intelligence, you can exhibit collective behaviour with no biology involved”.

What Palacci thought he was demonstrating was that the inanimate objects – microscopic plastic spheres containing hematite, which makes them both magnetic and, in the right conditions (suspended in hydrogen peroxide which, exposed to light, catalyses the solution and is shoved around by osmotic forces) clump together to form swarms. What he actually demonstrated, however, was the swarming behaviour of the media, with world+dog seizing on this quote: “[we] show that with a simple, synthetic active system, we can reproduce some features of living systems.”

The NYU media release, here, is much more prosaic, as can be seen from the opening paragraphs of the announcement:

"New York University physicists have developed a method for moving microscopic particles with the flick of a light switch. Their work, reported in the journal Science, relies on a blue light to prompt colloids to move and then assemble—much like birds flock and move together in flight.

“The method offers the potential to enhance the design of a range of industrial products, including the architecture of electronics.”

What’s going on here? The blue light causes the colloids to react with, and break down, the hydrogen peroxide near them. The lower concentration sucks in more hydrogen peroxide, buffeting the spheres – and the new hydrogen peroxide is catalysed, so the process repeats. And because the blobs contain iron, the swarms can be steered with magnetic fields.

“If there are enough spheres in the same place they will cluster together to form shapes of symmetrically arranged particles, which the team call crystals,” New Scientist notes.

The important bit – at least from the physicist’s point of view – is not the “frankenparticle” (thanks for that, New Scientist) video (below), but that they can boil the swarming behaviour down to mathematics.

“Our experiments are quantitatively described by simple numerical simulations,” as is noted in the abstract in their paper in Science.

The material science implications are interesting: “By better understanding driven colloidal self-organization, scientists have the potential to harness these particles and create new and enhanced materials”, the university’s announcement notes - and that could include contributing towards the development of self-healing materials.

And, looking at other swarming behaviours – the ones that occur in living systems, such as birds or fish – Palacci wonders if these could also be reduced to simple maths. “From a physicist's point of view, if many different systems behave in the same way there must be an underlying physical rule”. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.