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What happens when humans behave as if they were schooling fish or swarming insects or flocking birds?

Well, we are about to find out. Engineering professor Naomi Ehrich Leonard ’85 and choreographer Susan Marshall are conspiring with a creative group of undergraduates to host live human flocking events on the Princeton campus on December 5 and 6. Those interested in learning the flocking rules early can show up to a practice run this afternoon at 3:45 p.m. in New South (no dance experience necessary).

The events come out of a Princeton Atelier course this fall taught by Marshall, a professor of dance, and Leonard, whose work closely examines the mathematical rules associated with the sensing and dynamic response that govern the movements of individuals in a group. The project explores what happens when a group of humans understands and works with the rules governing collective motion in animals.

Willa Chen, a sophomore majoring in operations research and financial engineering, has created a very cool online flocking simulator that allows you to design your own flocking rules and watch what happens.

And Aaron Trippe, a junior majoring in computer science, has been capturing the human flocking behavior of the Atelier group with overhead cameras so that the individual paths of the flockers can be analyzed later in order to better understand the patterns of collective behavior.

Last month Mechanical Engineering magazine published a terrific article explaining Leonard’s work in control theory. Leonard, who majored in mechanical and aerospace engineering as an undergraduate at Princeton, is also a long-time dancer.  Amy Laviers, a 2009 Princeton Engineering graduate, worked with Leonard to use machine learning algorithms to compare movements made in classical ballet to those made in modern dance.

Photo courtesy Mike Baird via Flickr.

 
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