Helen McCreery Joins IBIO to Study Cooperation in Groups

Helen McCreery has joined the Department of Integrative Biology as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the lab of Tom Getty.

Originally an environmental engineer, Helen has always been fascinated by social groups, especially social insects. "I am broadly interested in collective intelligence and emergent coordination in groups," Helen said. "I use both theoretical and field approaches to examine how groups break deadlocks to make consensus decisions, and I extend this work to look at group-level problem-solving strategies."

Helen earned her doctorate studying cooperation of ants in the Mike Breed Lab at the University of Colorado in Boulder. "In many cases, groups succeed at tasks that are well beyond the capabilities of individuals; this is collective intelligence," Helen explained. "Ants provide some of the best examples of collective intelligence. Groups of ants succeed at remarkable challenges, such as cooperative transport, which occurs when a group collectively moves a large, heavy food object." Helen has studied how groups of ants overcome the challenges of making decisions (e.g.,  agreeing on travel direction) and solving problems (e.g., navigating around obstacles).

 "At MSU I will extend this research on cooperation to other species to see how other diverse groups coordinate their actions."

Helen's research is supported by the James S. McDonnell Foundation's Complex Systems postdoctoral fellowship. The Foundation provides funding for postdoctoral researchers in a wide variety of fields studying complex systems, especially across multiple scales.