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Bright Flight

Illuminations: on fireflies, natural systems, and the complex field of complexity science

How do birds make breakneck turns in perfect formation as they soar thousands of feet above the ground? Nobody knows. But the answer could allow us to better comprehend numerous natural systems, from subatomic particles to schools of fish to ourselves. In the March issue, Vanessa Gregory writes about a group of physicists investigating a similar mystery: how certain species of fireflies synchronize their flashing as part of an elaborate mating ritual. Gregory joins web editor Violet Lucca to delve into the myriad implications of complexity science, the history and methodology of firefly research, and whether systems in nature communicate in ways that don’t remotely resemble how humans do.

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January 2016

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