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Scientist use synthetic 'crystals' to study collective behavior

Samantha StainburnGlobalPost.com

To help them study self-organizing collective behaviors, scientists at New York University have created synthetic particles that form ‘living crystals’ in certain chemical conditions, Wired reported.

The scientists are interested in learning more about the ways schooling fish, flocking birds and even swarming humans respond to the environment in ways that individual animals would not, the New Scientist reported.

According to R&D Magazine:

The work addresses a fundamental question in nature—what causes flocks and swarms to form and move in a particular way?

The particles are microscopic cubes of hematite covered in a spherical polymer coat, Wired reported. They are suspended in a fluid and activated by blue light, R&D Magazine reported.

The particles form crystals that are lifelike in that they possess metabolism and mobility, NYU physicist Paul Chaikin, who helped develop the particles, said, according to Wired.

"In future it may be possible to create systems of particles that can make collective decisions – something we often think of as only possible in biological systems," Iain Couzin, a Princeton University-based scientist who’s studied swarming in fish, told the New Scientist.

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