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  Universal laws of mass migration: From cancer cells to wildebeest.

   College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences

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  Prof J Matthiopoulos, Prof D Husmeier  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Start date: no later than March 2014
Stipend: £13,590

Why do things behave differently when they are in groups? If we imagine that the suitability of an area degrades away from a specific point, then we should expect the movement of agents up and down this gradient to match the availability of the resource. For instance, more humans should migrate towards economic hubs, wildebeest should congregate in proportion to the available grazing, and the movement of cancer cells should be a function of the viscosity of the blood. However, this rarely occurs. In almost all circumstances, we observe more agents than we expect congregating in specific patches and these individual agents tend to move collectively. This aberrant behaviour of groups is consistently observed across all levels of organization from the movement of individual cancer cells in the human body to the mass migration of millions of animals. When individuals congregate and interact (via chemical, visual or aural communication), there is a fundamental switch away from our expectations which is suggestive of an underlying emergent property that has yet to be adequately quantified.
This project will synthesize our empirical observations of the movement of cancer cells and GPS collared wildebeest and compare them to models in which movement is directly proportional to the resource. Our objective is to account for the observed variation in movement patterns of groups and determine if there are commonalities that occur across these scales of organization that may account for this divergent behaviour.
The project would suit a numerate biologist or a physical/mathematical scientist with a keen interest in cellular or ecological problems.

 About the Project