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I completed my PhD in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University in 2018 with Dr. Stacey Combes and Dr. L. Mahadevan. I am now a Postdoctoral Fellow in Kirsten Petersen's Collective Embodied Intelligence Lab at Cornell University. My research combines experimental and computational approaches to understand distributed control of complex physical tasks performed by honeybee colonies. These tasks include self-organized nest ventilation and collective control of mechanical and thermal stability in honeybee swarm clusters. These behaviors highlight the ability of animal groups to use existing physical phenomena in fluid dynamics, elastomechanics and thermodynamics to integrate locally-sourced information and elicit group-level responses. Recently, my work has led me to explore how these concepts can be used in engineered systems such as multi-agent robotic systems and active materials.

RESEARCH PROJECTS: Collective Ecophysiology of Honeybee Colonies


Concord Field Station
Research Apiary

I started a small research/teaching apiary at the Concord Field Station in 2013 and have been managing it ever since. Many collaborative studies have benefited from the apiary over the years. The apiary has ~12 beehives, a weather station, a storage shed and power for automated hive monitoring studies. In 2015, we held an introductory beekeeping workshop for local high school teachers.

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Honeybee fanning behavior

Honeybees actively drive airflow through their nests by fanning their wings at the nest entrance. This is a unique instance in which an insect uses its flight system for a non-flight function. I used high speed videography and particle-based flow visualization to quantify the kinematics of fanning behavior and the flows that it generates.

Colloborators: Nick Gravish and Stacey Combes.


Distributed ventilation
by bio-inspired robots

Honeybees fan their wings at the entrance of the hive when the temperature is above a threshold. Due to complex feedback with the airflow, bees are able to self-organize efficient ventilatory airflow in which in/outflow are separated in space. I developed a multi-agent robotic model of this system with Jim MacArthur. We demonstrate that analog robots following simple rules can achieve similar ventilation behavior even without a central controller.

Collaborators: L. Mahadevan and Jim MacArthur.

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Collective thermoregulation in
honeybee swarms

Honeybee swarm clusters are also exposed to extreme ambient temperature fluctuations in the spring. Experiments have shown that swarms regulate their density to control how much heat they dump to the environment as ambient temperature changes. I built a temperature-controlled room and a 3D scanner to quantify the dynamics of this thermoregulatory morphing behavior.

Collaborators: Orit Peleg and L. Mahadevan.


Mechanical stability of swarms

Honeybee colonies form swarm clusters during reproduction. These clusters consist of a mass of ~10,000 bees which cling to each other and hang from a tree branch. When the tree branch is exposed to wind, it sways about and destabilizes the swarm. We shook swarms of bees using a linear actuator and discovered that the cluster can change its shape to stabilize itself in response to such mechanical perturbations.

Collaborators: Orit Peleg, Mary Salcedo and L. Mahadevan.


Self-organized nest ventilation

Honeybee nests often have singular entrances. This means that fanning bees must establish inflow and outflow through the same opening. Using a combination of experiments and modeling, we discovered that honeybees responding only to local temperature are able to self-organize to separate inflow and outflow in space. This patterning arises from the interplay between fanning behavior, temperature and airflow.

Colloborators: Orit Peleg and L. Mahadevan.