Math and Biology Combine in Science Lecture

Claudia Anaya

The first science lecture of the fall semester gave attendees a slight idea of the importance of how understanding motion in animal groups can benefit people.

On Sept. 23, the importance ofstudying collective motion to better understand how to control swarms of locust or “understanding crowds can mean understanding traffic,” said Allison Kolpas, postdoctoral researcher at the department of ecology, evolution and marine biology at UC Santa Barbara.

Her father Sid Kolpas who teaches mathematics at GCC chose and introduced the speaker.

“So, under-standing the collective motion of animal groups, might give us some ideas about how to solve traffic problems, and there are a lot of people who are working on models of traffic and the models not surprisingly look very similar to the models of animal groups,” said Kolpas.

Kolpas uses mathematics to study biology and tried to explain her research through rote mathematical equations.

“A lot of people take biology and they don’t really know how mathematics plays a role. It’s playing a more important role in biology,” said Kolpas.

Kolpas used computer simulations and equations that mathematics majors and professors would understand to model the behaviors of animals.

The models are used by engineers that are building groups of robots to move in swarms and use them for disabling landmines, “also for surveillance to be used by the department of defense, to go into a building and assess the situation so soldiersdon’t have to be sent in. Researchers and engineers are working on this,” said Kolpas.

The collective motion of animal groups studied by Kolpas is understood as a social interaction between members rather than the cause of a leader guiding them.

“You can build a team of robots to perform tasks to place them in Monterrey Bay, to take the temperature of the water, to do environmental monitoring,” said Kolpas.

This was the first in an ongoing series of science lectures offered throughout the semester.