BEGIN seminar – Dr Orit Peleg

Sebastijan Sekulic
Monday 1 February 2021

Date: 16 February 2021
Time: 15:00-16:00
Venue: The link for the event will be sent on the morning of the 16th those that RSVP

Please RSVP at until Mon 15th of February to receive the link.
All welcome!

The physics of firefly communications: Principles and predictions

Fireflies offer a unique and rare glimpse into animal communication. Their signal comprises a species-specific on/off light pattern repeated periodically, used by individual fireflies to advertise themselves to potential mates. Detecting individuals becomes increasingly challenging at high densities of fireflies. In this talk, I will explore how fireflies approach this problem while using physics and information-theory concepts, e.g., energetic cost and compression (minimization of bits representing information) and detectability (high signal-to-noise-ratio). The first approach involves signal amplification via synchronization within swarms containing tens of thousands of individuals. Our recent quantitative measurements of the three-dimensional spatiotemporal flashing pattern of synchronous firefly swarms allow us to validate a set of mathematical models that account for short-range spatial correlations and the signal’s emergent periodicity. The second approach involves the evolutionary design of light patterns with increased detectability at other individuals’ expense. Using a computational model, we observe an emergent periodicity in the resulting optimal sequences and demonstrate a method of reconstructing potential cost functions from the phylogenetic relationships of extant species alongside their characteristic flash patterns.


Orit Peleg is a broadly trained physicist with a passion for living systems. Her research is aimed at understanding how organisms buffer themselves against large environmental fluctuations and accommodate adaptation over a wide range of length and time scales. This includes protein assemblies that remain intact under varying external mechanical and chemical stimuli, beetles that navigate using volatile celestial cues, and honeybee clusters that change their morphology to both withstand mechanical stresses, and to regulate their bulk temperature. Peleg is an Assistant Professor at the Computer Science Department and the BioFrontiers Institute at the University of Colorado Boulder. She draws from a multidisciplinary background; She holds a B.S. in physics and computer science and an M.S. in physics from Bar-Ilan University in Israel. She then moved to Switzerland to get her Ph.D. in materials science at ETH Zurich, and then to Boston for a Postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University in first chemistry, and then applied mathematics.

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