Local Sensing in Disordered Living Systems
Monday, February 27, 2017 - 12:00pm
Joseph Henry Room, Jadwin Hall
Physics and the Lewis-Sigler Institute

To survive in noisy environments, organisms must buffer themselves against large fluctuations and accommodate adaptation over a wide range of length and time scales. They often sense their local environment and respond in a way that promotes survival, yet face challenging problems when environmental changes occur globally or far away. In this talk, I will describe several local sensing solutions insects use to solve global problems, including beetles that navigate using volatile celestial cues, and honeybee clusters that change their morphology to both regulate their bulk temperature, and to withstand mechanical stresses. In these examples, organisms could be conceptualized as active matter where tension prevails between order and disorder: while ordered systems are stable and predictable, they leave little room for exploration; therefore, these local sensing solutions are accomplished at an intermediate level of disorder, and suggest a new paradigm for local sensing and feedback-driven stabilization of biological processes.