Students at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY are studying how primitive animals with backbones (vertebrates) evolved. Fossil records show the first vertebrates were fish which appeared some 500 million years ago.
Evolution is often a race between prey (the hunted) and predator (the hunter), where speed usually decides who survives. The research at Vassar is looking at how the backbone may have evolved to help fish swim faster, giving them a better chance of staying alive.
To study the evolution of an extinct fish, the students are linking robotics with computer algorithms to simulate predator-prey interactions. The robotic "fish" look like floating Tupperware dishes fitted with a circuit board. They are designed to swim on their own using a tail that pushes and steers.
These students are doing something that has never been done before, and their work is gaining international attention. Use the links to learn more about this fascinating project.
[Vassar College] [Press Clipping] [Video]