AIP Physics News Preview: Birds Of A Feather
What Is The News?
--Studying the incredible feat of how hundreds of birds can move as a single unit, physicists have devised a detailed theory of the flocking process.
--Their theory can potentially be extended to herds of wildebeest, schools of fish, and any collection of independently moving animals that rely on each other's cues to move as a group.
---These results may additionally provide insights into the seemingly unrelated topic of auto traffic flow.
---To explain the flocking process, the physicists make intriguing analogies to physics phenomena such as the lining up of magnets, the flow of fluids, and the transfer of heat.
College Park, MD--Watching a flock of dozens or even hundreds of birds can be amazing because the separate birds often move as if they possess a single mind. What's more amazing, bird flocks often move harmoniously without any sort of leader or external cue, especially when they are traveling over short distances. Studying bird flocks may seem to be the exclusive domain of ornithologists. But physicists too have become captivated by the remarkable ability of birds--and many other living creatures--to move flawlessly as an organized group.
In the October issue of the journal Physical Review E, John Toner of the University of Oregon and Yuhai Tu of the IBM Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY present a detailed theory of how birds manage to move together as a single unit, even if the individual birds make frequent misjudgments and can only see an extremely small fraction of the other birds in the flock.
By making a few simple modifications, the authors say that their theory can also
describe movements in herds of wildebeest, schools of fish, swarms of
bacteria--in short, any collection of independently moving animals that rely on
each other's cues to move as a group. Potentially, their theory can even be
Contact: Ben Stein
American Institute of Physics