For Research Students

Self-organized systems and natural computation

Most of the listed topics (but not all of them) can be tackled on all levels, as Honours, Masters or PhD projects. Please talk to me about details.

All projects listed below study self-organized systems and natural computation.

The paradigmatic example of self-organized groups are colonies of social insects, such as ants, termites, and (some species of) bees and wasps, whose strikingly organized and seemingly purposeful behavior at the group level is organized without any central “master plan”. An ant colony’s activities, such as coordinated attack when threatened or the building of complex trail networks, require elaborate coordination and decision making. Yet, despite the involvement of up to millions of individuals, there is no leader making the decisions: the complex behavior at the colony level emerges from simple interactions between myriads of individuals that only process local information.

Many aspects of self-organized phenomena in nature can be better understood from the viewpoint of information processing. Natural computation studies such phenomena as computational processes and uses information theory to explain their behavior.

Self-organized behavior exhibits a number of properties that are highly desirable in technical applications, specifically robustness, adaptiveness and parallelism. Hence, social insect behavior has been used as an inspiration for a wide range of engineering tasks. Among the most important examples of so-called “Swarm Intelligence” applications are ant colony optimization, a method for combinatorial optimization, swarm robotics andnetwork routing.

We are specifically interested in the adaptiveness of self-organized systems, i.e. their ability to “reorganize” in order to adapt to a changing environment.

The projects offered come in two flavors: Some are theoretical and mainly concerned with understanding real biological systems, in particular ant colonies, bumblebees, and slime molds. Others are technical and use the insights gained from the study of self-organizing systems to develop new solutions to computational problems.


All projects require a keen interest in inter-disciplinary work and an open mind. In the biological projects we are closely collaborating with several biological research groups around he world. If you wish, you may have the opportunity in some projects to spend time in the lab, directly studying the behavior of real social insects. For most projects you will need skills in simulation (usually Python, Mathematica or Matlab) and for some you will also need advanced mathematical modelling (Dynamic Systems, Markov Models). I will warn you in these cases… Don’t sign up for any of these projects without consulting me first!