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Computers learn trick from fruit fly
By Rachel Ehrenberg
Fruit flies have solved a computing problem that has vexed computer scientists
for decades. Mimicking how some developing nerve cells in flies pick a leader to
make decisions has led to a computer
algorithm that could make wireless sensor networks — such as those used to control swarms of robots— more efficient,
researchers report in the Jan. 14 Science.
In such smart networks, some sensors
act as leaders to alert headquarters if, for
example, a certain number of them detect
the first rumblings of an active volcano.
The new approach achieves the same
leader-follower relationships but eliminates a lot of cross talk among sensors,
saving energy and computing power.
How fly nerve cells decide to take on
different jobs parallels an issue in distributed computing, in which many processors work together toward a common
goal with minimal leadership. A handful
of processors — typically ones with many
neighboring processors— are designated
leaders; they receive information from
nearby processors and pass it on. Yet fly
nerve cells set up their networks without
knowing much about their neighbors and
still come up with solutions.
As fruit fly larvae develop, some cells
take on particular tasks, such as becom-
ing precursors to the sensory bristles that
the flies use to read the air around them.
Each bristle ends up surrounded by non-
bristle cells. This layout, where there are
enough specialized cells, or leaders, but
no t wo are right next to each other, is very
similar to how tasks are divvied up in dis-
tributed networks, says Ziv Bar-Joseph
of Carnegie Mellon University in Pitts-
burgh, who led the new work.
National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research
Supervisory Research Chemist/Physical Scientist/Chemical Engineer
The National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research (NCAUR),
Plant Polymer Research Unit (PPL), Peoria, IL, is seeking a permanent
full-time Research Leader.
The mission of PPL is to conduct research to convert agricultural
products into novel, value-added materials, thus creating expanded
markets for agricultural commodities. Research emphasis is on
chemicalor enzymatic modification of polysaccharides and proteins,
bio-based materials, and structure-property relationships of the
modified materials. In addition, as Research Leader the incumbent
exercises leadership and line authority over scientists and support
personnel assigned to the Unit. In this capacity, the incumbent is
responsible for maintaining and enhancing the creativity and productivity of the Unit, hiring personnel and managing the human,
fiscal, and physical resources assigned to the Unit, serving as the
Unit fund holder, providing technical information and consultation
both internal and external to ARS, and ensuring the proper interpretation and reporting of scientific research results and information.
A degree in one of the following fields; chemistry, physical science or
chemical engineering is required; in addition to professional knowledge of materials science, polymer extrusion and processing, polymer
chemistry and physics, chemical engineering and organic chemistry.
Familiarity with instrumental analysis techniques necessary for polymer
characterization is required. The ability to plan, conduct and report a
personal research program is required. An ability to effectively communicate with stakeholders, cooperators and the general public is required.
For details and application directions, visit the website - http://www.
afm.ars.usda.gov/divisions/hrd/index.html and refer to announcement
ARS-X11W-0051. U.S. citizenship and pre-employment background investigation required. Application must be received by February 28, 2011.
USDA/ARS is an equal opportunity employer and provider.
February 12, 2011 | science news | 13