Research and knowledge exchange

Jeremy Niven

Investigating the neural circuits underlying memory formation in foraging ants

Niven (with Prof. Tom Collett and Prof. Andrew Philippides) was awarded funds for an interdisciplinary pilot project to investigate fundamental aspects of memory by pharmacologically interfering with ants’ neural pathways as they perform path integration (PI). The project had three primary anticipated outcomes: an application for the BBSRC; submission of a paper presenting findings in a high-profile journal; and the formation of new collaboration with research groups outside Sussex.

 Niven RDF"The RDF award has been enormously important. I received £10,000 from the RDF for work on wood ants. I had never worked with these animals before. 

The immediate impact of the RDF was in terms of a publication; after an entire summer of research paid by the RDF, we had sufficient data for a publication (which I think is one of the best I have ever produced). 

Far more important impact has been the impact in the longer term. Having been able to move into wood ant research through the RDF award, I was then able to think about how the research could be taken further. It was only after working with wood ants that I could see the possibilities. Eventually I had sufficient data that I could apply for a BBSRC grant with Dr Paul Graham (Reader, School of Life Sciences) and Prof. Barbara Webb (University of Edinburgh), which has just started and will fund our work for the next 3 years. Without the RDF award this may not have happened. 

Another outcome was that the research assistant on the RDF award (A. Sofia David Fernandes) gained significant experience that contributed to her getting funding from the Sussex Neuroscience 4-year programme.

It might seem surprising to many people that a relatively small award could have such a substantial impact. I imagine that many such awards amount to little but every so often they will be enormously important. It's likely that my next research grant applications (and hopefully awards) will also be on woods ants, all stemming from this one RDF award.

My experience of the RDF has been enormously positive. The funding I received has enabled me to form new collaborations, produce a high quality publication (an article in the Journal of Experimental Biology), and to obtain grant funding from the BBSRC (~£430,000).’"

Jeremy Niven, Senior Lecturer in Zoology, Life Sciences 



April 2014: RDF Bid submitted

June 2014: RDF project begins

August 2015: RDF project ends

September 2015: Findings published in the Journal of Experimental Biology

January 2017: BBSRC Standard Grant bid submitted (awarded)