Modeling Birds in Flight

About the Project:

The common starling exhibits some of the most uncommon flight behaviors of any bird, flying in mesmerizing flocks, known as murmurations, of up to 750,000 individuals. Basic questions remain unanswered about this flocking behavior for starlings and other species. Recent work has argued that some of this flocking behavior is due to the protective nature of the mass flights when under attack from aerial predators. In this research project we’ll model flocking behavior of starlings and their interactions with other birds, both predators and non-predators, with a goal of producing the differing dispersal and congregational patterns exhibited. Additionally, we will produce visual representations of the flight behaviors to aid our attempt to correlate our models with observational studies. We’ll do this by using the parallel processing capabilities of typical graphics cards available in modern computers. Because of the heavy reliance on the mathematics of modeling and what’s called GPU programming, a strong background in math is required. No programming experience is needed but a willingness to learn is as this will encompass much of the project (all programming knowledge will be taught to the research associate).

Naz Merchant received his Ph.D. in linguistics from Rutgers University. Prior to his doctoral work in linguistics he attended the University of Oregon receiving a M.Sc. in mathematics and a M.Sc. in computer science. His undergraduate degree is from Eckerd College. His research focuses on the learnability of natural language grammars with an emphasis on the learning of optimality theoretic grammars. 

The First-Year Research Associate Program at Eckerd College honors academically outstanding students with awards of up to $1,000. The program also provides the opportunity, during the freshman year, for the award winners to work closely with a sponsor (faculty or administrative personnel) on a project of mutual interest. Associates might assist with research for faculty publication or new courses, conduct scientific experiments, work with creative artists, or develop projects related to any phase of the academic, cultural, and social life of the college. Scholars are selected on the basis of achievement in high school and on the creativity and depth of responses to items on this application.​

Online submission due no later than February 1, 2023.

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