In Fall 2012, MechSE professor Harry Dankowicz and two of his collaborators received an INSPIRE award for their new project on asynchronous communication networks.
INSPIRE, or Integrated NSF Support Promoting Interdisciplinary Research and Education, is a program of the National Science Foundation that was created to support those trying to address complex scientific problems with research that is both interdisciplinary and transformative.
Dankowicz's project, of which he is the principal investigators, was awarded nearly one million dollars under the program. This project, called "Asynchronous communication, self-organization, and differentiation in human and insect networks," brings together the fields of dynamical systems research, behavioral and cognitive science, and entomology.
The team will investigate how the actions of individuals become coordinated to create an effective society or community. They will study the different methods and types of communication, the conditions under which different types of communication arise, the differentiation of certain types of interactions, and how these chains of interactions between individuals give rise to large-scale changes in the network.
Some of the experiments will be conducted with well-controlled bee hives, courtesy of Professor Gene Robinson. Robinson is the director of the Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois and a professor of entomology and neuroscience. His research specifically lies in trying to understand the underlying mechanisms of the social behavior of the honey bee.
Other experiments will be conducted with groups of human subjects under the direction of Professor Whitney Tabor, a professor of psychology from the University of Connecticut. Tabor specializes in the dynamics of language and cognition, as well as change in structured systems and group coordination.
Dankowicz brings expertise in the realm of complex systems, controls, and dynamics.
"One looks at the behavior and tries to apply the tools of network analysis to it," Dankowicz said. "We’re interested in looking at the network as a dynamical phenomenon, as something that changes and evolves over time, and that’s one of the central components of this project."
The long-term goal of the project is to create a comprehensive computational framework that could be used to better understand, predict, and prevent the collapse of different types of communities. Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon in which a bee hive will fall into chaotic disarray unexpectedly and without any known reason, creates significant problems for farmers and gardeners who rely on the pollination the bees provide. Human societies as well have been known to exhibit destructive behavior in the face of societal change or social upheaval. Understanding these behaviors could be the key to preserving a community before it collapses or does irreversible damage to itself.
Professor Dankowicz is looking for a post-doctoral researcher with expertise in computational network analysis, dynamic graph theory, and complex system modeling to join this project. For more information, please click here.