EE Alum Among Researchers to Discover How Desert Ants Stay Cool
An international team of researchers, including EE Alum and Affiliate Professor Gary Bernard, had their findings published in the journal Science on June 18. The team's research explores how Saharan silver ants stay cool under extreme temperatures in the African desert, revealing that the ants have a unique coating of hairs on their outer bodies that effectively dissipate heat. Read the UW Today article.
The idea came about in the summer of 2013, when Bernard met with co-author Rüdiger Wehner, director of the University of Zürich’s Brain Research Institute. Wehner proposed measuring the reflectance spectrum from the Saharan silver ant, which is able to tolerate the hottest mid-day temperatures of up to 140º F. Agreeing to participate in the project, Bernard, who was equipped to measure UV through Far-Red, proposed that another colleague, Nanfang Yu, from Columbia University, take the lead on measurements throughout the Infrared.
With a few ants and an image of the head taken through a microscope, Bernard began measuring the reflectance spectrum. Early on, Bernard noticed that the head was plastered with a layer of parallel hairs of varying dimensions.
“The topic of my UW Ph.D. thesis was frequency-independent, flush-mounted microwave antenna arrays, so to me that layer of hairs looked like a radiating/reflecting array tuned to wide-band infrared,” Bernard said. “I thought the layer of hairs might help radiate heat from the core of the body.”
The implications of the team’s research are profound, paving the way for the development of cooling surfaces for a variety of uses, such as transportation, buildings and even clothing.
A UW EE alum (BSEE ‘59, MSEE ’60 and Ph.D. ’64), Bernard was advised by Professor Akira Ishimaru. Bernard spent 21 years conducting research on insects at Yale University, specifically exploring eyes and vision, before joining Boeing Commercial Airplanes, in Auburn. He worked there for another 20 years as a researcher. Upon his return to the Northwest, Bernard contributed to the use of machine learning techniques for monitoring material removal processes, making substantial advances in the field.