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What can people and bees teach us about collective behavior?

Prestigious National Academies Keck Futures Initiative funds research at NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering

NYU Tandon School of Engineering


IMAGE: NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering Associate Professor Oded Nov is leading a group of scholars probing the collective behavior of humans and bees to try to determine how individual variation... view more

Credit: NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering

Can bees and people teach us about the fundamental principles of collective behavior?

A group of scholars led by Oded Nov at the New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering is exploring that question with help from a grant that supports bold and risky interdisciplinary work with high potential impact.

The National Academies Keck Futures Initiative (NAFKI) will fund the research team which includes Nov, an associate professor of technology management and innovation at the NYU School of Engineering, Professor Maurizio Porfiri, who heads NYU's Dynamical Systems Laboratory in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Guy Bloch from Hebrew University's Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior. The research will focus on how individual variation and behavioral plasticity interact to shape group performance. The research findings are expected to contribute to the foundation of an integrative science of collective behavior transcending species boundaries.

The NAFKI is a program of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine with support from the W.M. Keck Foundation. It awarded Nov's research project $100,000 on the basis of its importance, potential impact, and quality.

Both human subjects and bees will complete collaborative tasks, and researchers will study if and how plasticity in individual performance compensates for the amount of individual variation lost during the collaboration.

Katepalli Sreenivasan, the president and dean of the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering, said that Nov and Porfiri "serve as a testament to the energy and intellectual climate at our school, and we are pleased that the National Academies Keck Initiative has recognized this important work."


The NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering dates to 1854, when the NYU School of Civil Engineering and Architecture as well as the Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute (widely known as Brooklyn Poly) were founded. Their successor institutions merged in January 2014 to create a comprehensive school of education and research in engineering and applied sciences, rooted in a tradition of invention, innovation and entrepreneurship. In addition to programs at its main campus in downtown Brooklyn, it is closely connected to engineering programs in NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai, and it operates business incubators in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn. For more information, visit

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