Summer Science Exhibition

How do insects find their way home?


Researchers from University of Sussex are studying how insects are able to navigate long and complicated routes between their nest and food sources, despite their limited neural capabilities and low-resolution vision. 

Ants, like many insects, have incredible way-finding abilities despite having brains 100,000 times smaller than a human’s.  But how do they remember all these routes?  Researchers have discovered that ants store visual ‘snapshots’ of the patterns made by objects against the sky at key points along their path, and later use the memory of these patterns to guide them along the route.    

“Despite their small size, ants and bees can teach us a lot about the cognitive building blocks of intelligence, and inspire the design of artificial brains for autonomous robots,” says Dr Andrew Philippides, Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics, University of Sussex.

Can you navigate as well as an ant? Test your abilities on the ‘Ant Challenge’ and learn how insect-inspired algorithms can help robots find their way home.

Exhibited by University of Sussex

Exhibition video

Exhibitor's latest blog

Out of the mouths of babes
By Paul | Tuesday 15th June, 6:06pm

The preparations for our exhibit are in full flow and going relatively smoothly, but there is one thing which is particularly hard to prepare for. Unfortunately that thing is the whole point of the festival: dealing with the public. More specifically, dealing with awkward questions.

Having worked with ants for many years, you can get used to the steady stream of annoying questions about how best to kill them -something we actually try particularly hard to avoid. Equally, you can learn to bite your tongue following any question involving the phrase "taxpayer's money" and perhaps even enter into an almost serious debate.

Of course in the main, most people's questions are interesting, perceptive and stimulating. And then to top it off,  you can occasionally get a query that can render you dumbstruck (with joy). My current favourite being "Has an ant ever got in your mouth? ".

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The Exhibition is located in the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, and takes place from Friday 25 June to Sunday 4 July 2010. Open Friday 25 June 6pm - 8.30pm, then daily 10am - 8.30pm. Entrance is free. For groups larger than 12 people, please contact us to book.