Round Table Discussion on: Collective Behavior

The fourth roundtable was an opportunity for all students to discuss the topic “Collective Behavior” on Zoom with a panel of guests: Clemens Bechinger from the University of Konstanz, Ivo Buttinoni from Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf and Caroline Beck Adiels from Gothenburg University. The event was organized by Daniela Pérez, Danne van Roon, Davide Breoni, Jérémie Bertrand, Laura Natali and Liam Ruske on March 24th.

Although the guests had different background they seemed to agree on the fact that complex behavior can emerge from an ensemble of entities that obey a small number of simple rules. Indeed, minimalistic models such as the Vicsek model account for phase transition from a disordered motion to large scale motion and more; phenomena that appear to be universal.

A question on the role of intelligence and communication in collective behavior started the discussion. Although some animals or colony of bacteria may seem intelligent (e.g. escaping from a predator in a clever way or making long-lasting symbiotic microfilms), we must bear in mind that collective behavior is… collective, and rarely arises from decisions made individually. It may be said that in the animal kingdom, the need for survival requires a need to adapt and therefore to be intelligent, but this need for intelligence can be outsourced and solved at the level of the group rather than hardwired in the physical brain of each animal (or human).

It is also conceivable that one of the entities acts as a leader and ignites a collective behavior. Giovanni Volpe made an interesting remark, stating that a leader is the one who defines the objective function to be optimized by the group. The idea of leadership in collective behavior of microscopic systems remain largely unexplored by physicists.

After one hour of fruitful discussion and back and forth between the students and the guests, the session was finished and we resumed our activities with a better understanding of collective behavior. We thank the panelists for their inputs and attendance!