Tuesday, Jan 23rd: The Physics of Murmuration: Starling Flocks Behave like Flying Magnets

Event Date: 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018 - 5:15pm to 6:15pm

Event Date Details: 

Pizza will be served after the seminar.

Event Location: 

  • Broida 3302

Event Contact: 

  • Special Physics Seminar

Starling murmurations are one of nature’s most extraordinary sights. Murmuration refers to the phenomenon that results when hundreds, sometimes thousands, of starlings fly in swooping, intricately coordinated patterns through the sky. But how do these birds move so synchronously, swiftly, and gracefully? How do they know exactly when and where to turn? Only recently, due to the development of new technologies, has it become possible to obtain quantitative data on the three dimensional movement of these birds. According to one study led by physicists Andrea Cavagna and Asja Jelic of the Institute for Complex Systems in Rome, the closest statistical fit for this behavior comes from the physics of magnetism, specifically how the electron spins of particles align with their neighbors as metals become magnetized. By analyzing flight directions within a starling flock, researchers discovered that each single bird interacts with only a handful of neighbors, approximately seven. In this lecture I will describe flock movement and present the experimental setup, statistical methods, and findings of this study.