Course Information
Further Explorations


Instructor: Payman Arabshahi, Applied Physics Laboratory, Box 355640, <payman at ee.washington.edu>, (206) 221-6990. Office hours: after class (JHN 022), or by appointment.

Class Mailing List: <gis203a_au10 at u.washington.edu>



Course Description: In this Discovery Seminar, we take a look into the intriguing world of social insects and their behaviors. We will study phenomena such as flocking, shoaling, collective nest building, foraging, hunting, and attacking. We will investigate ants as natural models for solving numerous problems of interest in business and engineering. The foraging of ants has already led to new methods for routing voice and data traffic on networks. The cooperative interaction of ants working to transport food items may lead to better algorithms for robots. The way in which insects cluster their colonies' dead and sort their larvae can help us in analyzing banking and security data. Simple rules followed by ants have already helped design sports stadiums, to make them safer for emergency evacuations. And the division of labor among honeybees and ants can help factories streamline their assembly lines and schedule jobs. We will look at these and other cases, as well as the science behind such behavior. Projects will challenge students to develop experiments or applications which take inspiration from swarming behavior. This course can be used toward completion of the Natural World (NW) requirement.

Prerequisite: An inquisitive mind. The course is open to freshmen pursuing studies in any field. Students interested in Engineering, Business, Biology, and Physics, will find this course particularly appropriate.


  • 55%: Best 11 out of 12 two-page overview papers (5% each) on assigned chapters from Gordon and Hölldobler/Wilson (lowest grade dropped).
  • 15%: Midterm project (2% project proposal, 3% presentation, 10% content).
  • 20%: Final project (2% project proposal, 3% presentation, 15% content).
  • 10%: Class participation


The following books are on reserve at the Undergraduate Library (4-hour checkout).

  1. Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson, The Ants, Harvard University Press, 1990.
  2. Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson, The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies, W.W. Norton, 2009.
  3. Eric Bonabeau, Marco Dorigo, and Guy Theraulaz, Swarm Intelligence: From Natural to Artificial Systems, Oxford University Press, 1999.