An ant’s eye view of the world at the Royal Society science festival

Ants marked for study feed on their target destination - a dish of sugar solution

Do you think you can outsmart an ant?

That's the challenge being set by scientists from the University of Sussex, who will be presenting their research into how insects find their way home at the prestigious Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, which opens today (25 June 2010). 

Researchers Dr Andrew Philippides (Informatics) and Dr Paul Graham (Life Sciences) from the University's Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics (CCNR) will be explaining to visitors at the London exhibition the surprisingly complex mechanisms used by small-brained nest-dwelling insects as they navigate back home from foraging expeditions.

Dr Philippides says: "When insects go foraging, they zoom off from their nest in complex zig-zag paths. How do they manage to find their way back home? And how do they manage to do so along a straight path?"

To explore these questions, the team will be inviting visitors to try the "Ant Challenge" to discover if a human, with a brain 100,000 times bigger than an ant's, can find a target location using ant-like navigational strategies and vision (reproduced by viewing the world through specially designed mirrors).

Dr Philippides says: "Ants are amazing navigators. We and many other people study them as their remarkable behaviour gives scientists insights into the cognitive building blocks of intelligence, and inspires the design of artificial brains for autonomous robots."

The team at Sussex use robotic modelling and behavioural experiments to investigate insect navigation. One current question is how ants encode a visual scene with low-resolution vision. For instance, it was recently found that ants can recognise a place using only a crude skyline.  

Continuing research will also look at how innate behaviours can accelerate the process of learning visual information.

Notes for Editors


For further information about the ants exhibit and for videos of ant behaviours visit:


  • The Royal Society Summer Science opens on Friday, 25th June 2010 in the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London and runs until Sunday 4 July 2010. Entry is free and opening hours run from 10am - 8.30pm daily (25 June 6pm - 8.30pm). The exhibition is part of See Further: The Festival of Science + Arts, which marks the Royal Society's 350th Anniversary.


  • There are 27 interactive exhibits on show, presenting the best of UK science, engineering and technology.


  • There is a Press preview from 3pm to 5pm on Tuesday 22 June. Please register your interest with the Royal Society press office on .

The event is FREE and open to the public. Further information can be found at

If you'd like to find out more about the Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics, visit: CCNR

University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune, Jacqui Bealing and Daniëlle Treanor. Tel: 01273 678 888. Email:

View press releases online at:

Last updated: Friday, 25 June 2010