Dynamic scaling in natural swarms – Nature Physics Cover

The cover page of the September issue of Nature Physics is dedicated to the article "Dynamic scaling in natural swarms" recently published by CoBBS Group


Probing Complex Dynamical Structures in Three Dimensions

Founding Body: European Research Council – ERC Proof of Concept
Total grant: € 150k
Principal Investigator: Irene Giardina
Other participants:
Project duration: 2016-2018
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COBBS – Flocking Experiment

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COBBS – Computer Vision and Tracking

The raw data gathered from the experimental work consists of three sequences of images, one from each camera, for each flocking/swarming event. Each sequence may consist of up to 2700 images, meaning a single event could have a total of 7100 images!! It would be impossible to process each event by hand in a timely manner. The solution is to apply various computer vision methods and algorithms to extract the required information, namely the position of each individual, from the images automatically.… Read the rest

COBBS – Non-biting Midge Experiment

Our search for midge swarms has taken us to many of the public parks within Rome including Riserva Naturale Valle dell’Aniene, Villa Paganini, Villa Torlonia, Parco dell’Acquedotto, Villa Ada, Laghetto dell’EUR and Ponte Tazio. Basically any place with an aquatic or semiaquatic habitat (the larval stage requires water for development) is where midges can be found. Our experimental setup is similar to that of the flocking experiment except that our baseline distance shrinks from 25 m down to approximately 5 – 8 m (depending on our distance to the swarm).… Read the rest

COBBS – Collective Behaviour in Biological Systems

From bird flocks to fish schools, from insect swarms to cell colonies, collective behaviour is a very widespread phenomenon in many biological systems. It is hard to define, but easy to recognize. What are the mechanisms regulating collective behaviour in biological systems?

In many cases collective behaviour is the result of local rules of interactions among the individuals, without any need of a centralized control.… Read the rest

COBBS – Laboratory

The COBBS Laboratory is housed on the 4th floor of the Fermi Building, Sapienza University. This is our main lab space and houses the experimental team. The numerical analysis and computer vision teams are located two doors down the hallway from our lab.… Read the rest


From self-organized animal groups to distributed artificial swarms: exporting natural behavioural rules to mobile robotics

Founding Body: Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) – Seed Project 2009
Total grant: € 650k
Principal Investigator: Irene Giardina
Other participants:
Project duration: 2010-2013
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Empirical analysis and theoretical modelling of self-organized collective behaviour in three-dimensions: from insect swarms and bird flocks to new schemes of distributed coordination

Founding Body: European Research Council – ERC Starting Grant 2010
Total grant: € 1100k
Principal Investigator: Irene Giardina
Other participants:
Project duration: 2010-2015
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COBBS – Publications

COBBS papers in collective behaviour:

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Metastable states and supersymmetry

Both the static and the dynamical behaviour occurring in mean field spin glass models models can be interpreted as consequences of the complex (free) energy landscape that spin glasses have, with many minima, valleys and saddles. Traditionally, much attention has been devoted in the past to the analysis of absolute minima, i.e. equilibrium states. More recently, we have understood that also metastable states, i.e.… Read the rest

Field theory for finite dimensional spin glasses

Many features predicted by mean field spin glass models, such as the behaviour of susceptibilities and correlation functions or the occurrence of aging and off-equilibrium dynamics, are qualitatively observed in experiments, suggesting that the mean field scenario may hold for finite dimensional systems also. To investigate this hypothesis a field theory for the fluctuations around the mean field solution has been developed.… Read the rest

COBBS – Photographs

Here is a selection of some of the INFM-CNR photographs from the STARFLAG project.

They are at low resolution. You can have the high resolution versions by contacting Andrea Cavagna:

Please note that the credit for each one of the following images is:

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Spin Glasses: a brief introduction

Spin Glasses are dilute magnetic alloys where the interactions between spins are randomly ferromagnetic or anti-ferromagnetic, and are considered as paradigmatic examples of frozen disorder. The presence of disorder (the random interactions) induces frustration and a greater difficulty for the system to find optimal configurations. As a consequence, these systems exhibit non trivial thermodynamic and dynamic properties, different and richer than those observed in their non disordered counterpart.… Read the rest

What is Econophysics?

Collective phenomena in economics, social sciences and ecology are very attractive for statistical physicists, especially in view of the empirical abundance of non-trivial fluctuation patterns and statistical regularities — think of returns in financial markets or of allometric scaling in ecosystems — which pose intriguing theoretical challenges. On an abstract level, the problems at stake are indeed not too different from, say, understanding how spontaneous magnetization may arise in a magnetic system, since what one wants in both cases is to understand how the effects of interactions at the microscopic scale can build up to the macroscopic scale.… Read the rest

STARFLAG: a project on collective animal behaviour

Collective animal behaviour is a fascinating phenomenon. How does global co-ordination emerge in a flock of thousands starlings swirling at dusk? How does a school of sardines organize in a circular pattern? What is the evolutionary function of collective behaviour? Is it purely defensive, or has it some other purpose, perhaps social? INFM-CNR was the leader node of a European project – FP6-NEST 12682 STARFLAG (2005-2008) – dedicated to the study of collective animal behaviour.Read the rest

COBBS – Press and Media Coverage

The seventh starling (Murmuration) – The Guardian

Choreografie ohne Choreografen – NZZ


Birds of a feather … track seven neighbors to flock together – News at Princeton

How do starlings create those mesmerizing murmurations – Cornell Lab Ornithology

Editorial: Tech is a flock of starlings – Engadget

Flights of Fancy: How birds (and bird-watchers) compute the behavior of a flock on the wing – American Scientist

Animal magnetism: modeling flocks of birds using simple attractions – ArsTechnica

Starling Flocks Behave Like Flying Magnets – Wired

The Startling Science of a Starling Murmuration – Wired

Birds flock with scale invariance – Physics World

How starling flocks create their aerobatic displays – BBC

The Smart Swarm – Peter Miller

Amazing Starling Flocks are Flying Avalanches – Wired

Birds network too – Science News

Study of starling formations points way for swarming robots – Daily Telegraph

Statistical Physics is for the Birds – Physics Today

A selection of low resolution photos from the project.… Read the rest