But when they blast off into outer space, do space ants behave like Earthling ants?
Leah LaCrosse’s fifth-grade science classes at Woodlands Intermediate School assisted NASA representatives with an experiment aiming to discover the answer.
The students collected droves of common pavement ants near their school and studied their behavior in a controlled habitat. In particular, they analyzed how the ants communicated with each other while exploring the new surroundings.
In January, NASA and Stanford University sent about 800 ants to live on the International Space Station and conducted similar studies in a microgravity environment.
Woodlands Intermediate School will send their findings to NASA to see how they compare.
“I think they’re going to move a lot slower in space, because of the gravity,” fifth-grader Cole Barker correctly hypothesized.
The overall goal of the “Ants in Space” experiment: apply the findings to robotics.
Ants interact according to behavior algorithms, similar to thoseusedtoprogramautonomous robots, and adjust their patterns invarious environments, LaCrosse explained.
“This is more than just an educational experiment,” she said. “This allows the students to see the real-world implications of what they’re doing.”
LaCrosse, who is a fellow with the Center for Advancement of Science in Space, or CASIS, is one of just a handful of teachers throughout the country who are participating in the experiment with their students.
The project was twofold, as it also provided students with an opportunity to try out their technology skills.
Alyssa Black, for example, tweeted real-time updates online, while other students took pictures and video on an iPad.
The students will also use the Internet to communicate with other schools throughout the country conducting the “Ants in Space” experiment.
Barker said he’ll never quite look at ants the same way after the experience.
“They’re special,” he joked. “It’s been fun.”
LaCrosse will share her classroom’s findings at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington D.C. later this month, where she will be a guest of CASIS.