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Army ant bridge collapses and recovers

1 minute

Mars habitat

5 minutes

Hoplites! Greeks at war

8 minutes

Street photography, 1838-2019: a photo for every year

20 minutes

Are you sure? Truth, certainty and politics

6 minutes

Aeon for Friends

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How to maintain infrastructure – the stunning collective intelligence of ant engineers

Army ants have tiny brains and are nearly blind, yet they routinely perform extraordinary feats of engineering, building bridges with their bodies to span gaps that they need to cross. In this video from the Swarm Lab of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, recorded in the field in a tropical forest in Panama, researchers pulled apart one of these bridges to study how army ants recover from such a rupture. One conclusion is that, although individual ants are incapable of understanding the movement of their colony as a whole, they have evolved a behavioural code that tells them to stop in their tracks if another ant is walking on top of them, a strategy that allows them to rebuild quickly. There are, however, some more complex army ant-bridge manoeuvres that researchers are still attempting to explain, such as when ants will construct a shortcut bridge rather than taking a longer route. Capturing this phenomenon close-up, this short video observes the surprising capabilities of collective intelligence to solve complex logistical problems.

Video by Helen McCreery, Simon Garnier, Radhika Nagpal, Mike Rubenstein, Melinda Malley, NJIT, Harvard University

Editor: Adam D’Arpino

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How 3D-printing robots will get Mars home-ready for our arrival

NASA has tentative plans for a manned mission to Mars sometime in the 2030s. Between now and then, there’s still much that needs to be sorted. To start, massive dust storms, high levels of radiation, low temperatures and a lack of water make the Martian surface an unfriendly place for long-term visits. Taming it for human life will likely prove one of the most demanding and complex engineering puzzles in human history. With those extraordinary obstacles in mind, in 2015 NASA announced the 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge: an open call asking designers and architects outside the traditional aerospace industry to create plans for Martian living centred around 3D printing. One of 10 finalists announced in 2019, this plan from the design practices HASSELL and Eckersley O’Callaghan envisions teams of 3D-printing robots building a protective shield on the Martian surface several months in advance of a human landing. Upon arrival, astronauts would then work alongside the autonomous robots to piece together an inflatable, modular habitat.

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Frozen for millennia, an ancient Greek soldier is freed to charge into battle once again

The artifacts that underlie so much of our understanding of the ancient world can often feel like brittle remnants of a dim and dusty past that’s hard to access without context and extensive knowledge. But sometimes just a little kineticism can transform a bit of pottery into a living story. Such is the effect of this animation produced for an exhibition at the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology at the University of Reading in the UK, which breathes life into war scenes from a vase found on the island of Euboea and thought to date to roughly 550 BCE. The story follows a spear-wielding hoplite (citizen-soldier in the infantry) as he moves through several stages of the wartime experience. After witnessing a ceremonial animal sacrifice performed by a priest, he departs for battle alongside his fellow soldiers, fights the enemy and creates a trophy from their discarded equipment to mark his side’s victory. Learn more about the video at the Panoply Vase Animation Project website.

Art director: Sonya Nevin

Animator: Steve K Simons

Website: Panoply Vase Animation Project

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Historic street view: an image for each of the 181 years since the dawn of photography

Just a decade after the first surviving photograph was taken, photography became widespread enough that, today, the Canadian film archivist and YouTuber Guy Jones could assemble this parade of streets worldwide – one photograph for each year from 1838 to 2019. The resulting montage offers a scattershot urban history of modernity, chronicling seismic shifts in transportation methods and fashions, as well as the more subtle evolutions of storefront signage and roadway surfaces. The video also provides a meaningful window into the history of the medium itself. At the dawn of photography, the black-and-white images are deliberately framed, with the camera often drawing the attention of its subjects. In recent photos, as the camera has become more ubiquitous, it’s often less artfully employed, and its presence goes mostly unnoticed by the people whose lives it freezes in discrete moments. 

Editor: Guy Jones

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What wrapping a rope around the Earth reveals about the limits of human intuition

If you tied a rope tight around the Earth’s equator and then added a single yard of slack, would the extra material make any noticeable difference to someone standing on the ground? Yes, actually. The answer comes as a surprise to most people, but the additional bit of rope raises it high enough off the ground for our eyes to easily discern it, and our feet to easily trip over. That fact might seem trivial, but the early 20th-century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein believed that this chasm between human intuition and physical reality revealed something important about the fallibility of our thinking. After all, if something that seems obvious to almost everyone can be totally false, what else might we be wrong about? This video from the Center for Public Philosophy at the University of California, Santa Cruz breaks down the mathematics behind Wittgenstein’s knotty example, and asks whether it should make us all feel a bit less certain about even our most deeply held beliefs.

Producers: Gregor Clark, Jon Ellis

Animator: Adam Ansorge

Aeon for Friends

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How to maintain infrastructure – the stunning collective intelligence of ant engineers

Army ants have tiny brains and are nearly blind, yet they routinely perform extraordinary feats of engineering, building bridges with their bodies to span gaps that they need to cross. In this video from the Swarm Lab of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, recorded in the field in a tropical forest in Panama, researchers pulled apart one of these bridges to study how army ants recover from such a rupture. One conclusion is that, although individual ants are incapable of understanding the movement of their colony as a whole, they have evolved a behavioural code that tells them to stop in their tracks if another ant is walking on top of them, a strategy that allows them to rebuild quickly. There are, however, some more complex army ant-bridge manoeuvres that researchers are still attempting to explain, such as when ants will construct a shortcut bridge rather than taking a longer route. Capturing this phenomenon close-up, this short video observes the surprising capabilities of collective intelligence to solve complex logistical problems.

Video by Helen McCreery, Simon Garnier, Radhika Nagpal, Mike Rubenstein, Melinda Malley, NJIT, Harvard University

Editor: Adam D’Arpino

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Essay/
History of science
Curving the Universe

A century ago, a team of scientists chased the arc of starlight across a total eclipse to prove Einstein right on relativity

Matthew Stanley

Essay/
Animals and humans
Green-eyed pets

Commonsense tells us that both dogs and cats experience jealousy. Are we being anthropomorphic or can we know for sure?

Paul Thagard