AntWorks ® was one of the highlights of our summer natural history studies! This simple kit became a quirky centerpiece on our dinner table, engaging the entire family from the 18-month-old who insists that they are "Nants" to a 40-something daddy. AntWorks ®comes as a thick-walled plastic home with a stable base; this became important as the little ones spent time watching the ants. We have tried the sand-filled ant farms with dismal spills that freed too many of the inhabitants. The AntWorks home is filled with a blue gel-like substance that provides both nourishment and liquid to the ants. Accompanying literature explains that this gel was developed by NASA for experiments carried out on the Space Shuttle. One of the nicest features is that this gel is translucent, allowing observers to see completely through the tunnels. An optional illuminator is a nice addition which makes an interesting night light, but we thought that it wasn't necessary.
Ants are not included with the kit. Once the ants are added to their home, the only maintenance that is needed is opening the top for a few seconds a week to allow fresh air to enter. Occasionally you will need to remove a dead ant, but our industrious insects buried their fallen comrades deep in the gel in sealed chambers. It was incredible to observe! This kit, combined with a few books from the library and a couple of diagrams and coloring pages downloaded from the Internet, provided a wonderful investigation into the life of ants for our elementary school-aged students.
Sent in by Stacy for 3 credit
This Kit makes a great learning educational toy for kids of all ages. The illuminator is a great night light as well I might add.
Was this experiment for real?
Yes! AntWorks ®is based on a 2003 NASA Space Shuttle experiment to study animal life in space and test how ants successfully tunnel in microgravity. The ants were a school project developed by Fowler High School students in Syracuse, New York. The students at Fowler High School spent three years preparing for the ant's rocket ride on Space Shuttle Columbia which tragically came to an abrupt end when Columbia disintegrated during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.
The project started in 2000 when Charlotte Archabald, the student's teacher, signed her school up for space supplier SPACEHAB's Space Technology and Research Students program, an educational initiative to involve students with space exploration and promote careers in the sciences.
The ants chosen for the mission were harvester ants (shown here when they were in space tunnelling in the transparent gel that served as the ants' tunnelling medium, food, and water source), large ants found normally in the western United States, not in space. Students tested a range of materials for the ants' space flight, trying to find something that could withstand the stress of launch and space travel while providing them with food. Researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder, helped them settle on a gel made with seaweed extract. While these ants normally feast on grass seeds and insect parts, the gel is chock-full of amino acids, sugars, and fungicides to keep the ants happy and well nourished.
Prior to the disaster the students were able to download data daily from an Internet link and have reviewed, which includes video and still photos of the ants' behaviour. According to the results, the ants appeared to be more active than their Earth-bound brethren, which was unexpected. The students had expected the ants to become disoriented by their journey.
"Their hypothesis was that the ants would be disoriented and slower in space because of the lack of gravity," said Archabald. "Actually the opposite happened. The ants tunnelled like crazy, like maniacs!"
How will your ants behave?