I am often asked why I studied ants. I have the following story in my experiences in class teaching. In my class at a graduate program, I assigned some quiz to students. Mostly, one-third handed it in by the due date for submission (their behavior is really disgusting me, but it's true in the university to which I belonged at the time. I deleted the name of the university from my LinkedIn). Another one-third did it after the due. The remaining guys disappeared finally from the class.
I visited Keio University in Tokyo as a visiting senior researcher. I happened to get there too early and sneaked into an undergraduate class of almost two hundred or more attendees. A lecturer collected quiz sheets online and showed the results of their scores on a huge projector behind her back. The one-third submitted their quiz sheets on time. Another one-third was late. And, the remaining didn't submit them.
I gazed at the heads of the students who were mostly Japanese whose hair is black. Some students dyed their hair in brown or something different. A report on a news paper came out into my mind. A certain ant species has only the one-third of the worker ants always commit to the tasks for their colonies. I had a chat with some grad students about the coincidence of this class quiz result with the ants' behavior. On a train back home, I spent two hours or more to think about how to model such one-third working individuals in groups to which they belong. It was around on May 2011, just two months after the Big Quake of East Japan.
Modeling the ant behavior in the movements of colonies was easy for me. I read several papers that were cited by renowned researchers whose names often appeared in Nature. I corrected almost one hundred eighty papers that were published from Nature magazine, Springer, Elsevier Science, PlOS ONE, PNAS, et cetera. It took almost one month to have modeled the behavior of ants. It was June of the same year. I run my model. It took me 36 hours or less in one time run. I got very reliable results of the ant trail traffic flow that was estimated by my model. These results matched the data obtained by ant experts in their field researches.
Why did I spend so much more time for publishing the paper? First, I sent our manuscript to Nature. They simply rejected it for publication. Their concern was about how the paper appealed to their readers. They should not get interested in our paper about ants. That is the reason.
A professor of machine learning suggested me to work together and to organize the paper as a useful finding for controlling automobile traffic flow. We tried to hand it into an IEEE Transportation conference. We sent an abstract of the paper to the PC members in advane. They showed interest in our paper. But, at the final stage of submission, I didn't submit it.
I asked HFL to join in our work. He called me just one day before the due date of submission. He said, "Do you really think your model can do anything good for automobile transportation?" I asked him, "What do you think about in your mind, actually?" He said to me, "Do you think ants behave like humans?" I was shocked at this straight question that had been always coming out in my mind during this project that started in the direction of transportation study. "No. Ants are ants. Humans are humans. They don't have voluntary moves like us." I said it to him. I could not but affirm his worry. He was right. He is a Christian, as I am. But, the other professor had a different idea from ours. He insisted on his idea. We could not reach an unanimous opinion about the paper. So, I gave it up at the time. It was on the end of March, 2012.
I moved to Czech Republic as a visiting professor in VSB Tech Unviersity of Ostrava. HFL and I restructured our study together from the point of biological science between Hong Kong and Czech. We emailed each other and finally submitted a brand new paper to Springer's Swarm Intelligence whose editor is Prof. Marco Dorigo. Everybody knows him, the genius designer of ant colony optimization. It was the beginning of August. Ten months passed from then. Now it has been accepted.
A good research can never be completed alone; a sound achievement shall never emerge without honesty. This is what I have learnt from HFL. I really thank him for his friendship to me. Only your friends tell you the truth in difficulty as described in the Book of Job.