“Flocking” Volvox in the Regeneron Science Talent Search

Balasubramanian Fig 3 A&B

Figure 3 A&B from Balasubramanian 2018. (a) V. barberi flock where 56 colonies gathered over several minutes and rotated coherently and rapidly in the culture well. (b) Schematic of flock in panel a.

In 2017, Ravi Balasubramanian, a student from Harriton High School in Rosemont, Pennsylvania, presented a talk and a poster on “flocking” behavior in Volvox barberi at the Fourth International Volvox Meeting in St. Louis. In 2018, Balasubramanian posted a preprint of his work to bioRxiv. Now his work has earned him a place among the top 300 scholars in the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2020, “the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors.”

Ravi Balasubramanian

Ravi Balasubramanian (image from Lower Merion School District)

The Lower Merion School District website has a feature about Ravi’s work:

Volvox barberi are multicellular green algae that form colonies of 10,000 to 50,000 cells. The algae form the colonies by actively “flocking” together in structures that have lattice angles and other features similar to crystals. Balasubramanian analyzed the flocking behavior with a computer simulation and found the algae formed closely packed arrangements that make optimal use of space. He also placed a dye tracer in the Volvox medium and showed that the colonies generated hydrodynamic vortices as they rotated that may produce the forces which they use to flock.

The story also mentions that

Balasubramanian has been accepted to Yale University for the fall.

Good for Yale! They’re lucky to have him.


Stable links:

Balasubramanian, R. N. 2018. Volvox barberi flocks, forming near-optimal, two-dimensional, polydisperse lattice packings. bioRxiv. doi: 10.1101/279059

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