Infrastructure

What ants can teach us about engineering

Ants construction techniques could have useful lessons for our own engineering projects. Image: REUTERS/Zainal Abd Halim

Emily Velasco

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A casting of a nest made by a species of ant found in Florida next to an adult man for scale.
A casting of a nest made by a species of ant found in Florida next to an adult man for scale. Image: Charles F. Badland

By x-raying the ants as they worked, the researchers were able to create 3-D animations showing their progress.
By x-raying the ants as they worked, the researchers were able to create 3-D animations showing their progress. Image: Caltech

The steepest angle a granular material, in this case, sand, can be piled up before collapsing is known as the angle of repose. That angle can be seen in the slopes of this pile of sand.
The steepest angle a granular material, in this case, sand, can be piled up before collapsing is known as the angle of repose. That angle can be seen in the slopes of this pile of sand. Image: Andy Arthur/Creative Commons
On the left, force chains are randomly distributed. On the right, the force chains have rearranged themselves to encapsulate a tunnel dug by the ant
On the left, force chains are randomly distributed. On the right, the force chains have rearranged themselves to encapsulate a tunnel dug by the ant Image: Caltech

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