Dave’s AntWorks Day 3: Space Age Ants

AntWorks day 3
We have tunnelage!

Our ants in the AntWorks continue to build their tunnels. They even connected the one that goes behind to the straight vertical tube, giving them a little shortcut. Now they are extending the tunnel that runs along the bottom of the AntWorks.

There’s some discoloration of the gel that the ants deposited at the top. Some may be ants in the top showing through the gel, but I believe some of it is ant poop in the gel. I’m not sure what I can do about that. Every time I take the lid off, the ants scurry to the top and get very excited. I suppose you could put it in the fridge and slow the ants down, but I’m not sure what that would do to the gel.

Experiment patch

Advertising for AntWorks says that it is "based upon a 2003 NASA Space Shuttle experiment". Well, yes, it is, sort of. The experiment was part of the Space Experiment Module (SEM-14) on board STS 107 (Space Transport System mission 107). Unfortunately, this was the Columbia mission that disintegrated in orbit, so the experiment was not recovered after the flight. It was not exactly a NASA experiment, however. The experiment was part of S*T*A*R*S (Space Technology And Research Students), which allowed students from around the world to fly experiments on the Space Shuttle. The Ants in Space experiment was conducted by the G.W. Fowler High School in Syracuse, NY, which is very cool.

Image from onboard Columbia showing the ants progress on their tunnels in space
STARS module prototype

The gel was developed in order to see how ants tunneled in the weightlessness of space compared to ants on earth. If they had used sand or earth for the experiment, the tunnels would have collapsed on the return trip due to the extreme G-forces. It also wouldn’t have allowed them to see the tunnels as clearly. The ants in space were released into the gel to begin tunneling at the same time as ants on earth in an identical module so that they could compare their progress. Although the experiment did not return, they did determine that the ants in space made tunnels faster than those on earth. And that they were a bit more erratic.

Back here on earth our ants’ tunneling has seemed to slow a bit. They also seem to be sticking to the corners and bottom at the moment. Hopefully, they will create more tunnels in the middle soon. This morning I watched one ant work quite hard to bite off a chunk of gel while her sisters kept nudging her from behind. It looked like they were impatient with her progress.

Incidentally, all the ants that you receive are all female. In fact, almost all the ants you ever see are female. Male ants are only created as needed by the queen for reproduction.

AntWorks tunnels
Tunneling along the bottom of the AntWorks
You can just see the area where the ants have connected the tunnels as they cross paths

4 Responses to “Dave’s AntWorks Day 3: Space Age Ants”

  • Rachel says:

    Hi Dave!

    I’m one of those high schoolers from 2003! I stumbled upon your website this evening and wanted to say hello. I’m so glad you took an interest in the Ants in Space project! I still live in Syracuse and would love to answer any questions you have about it. I also have some of those really attractive clip art inspired red patches you featured!

    I’m really impressed with your tunnels! By the way, refrigerating the ants with the gel wont hurt the ants. Or the gel. We actually did this many times in testing and shuttle prep!


    • Dave says:


      It was great to hear from one of the students that was responsible for the Ants in Space. It took me quite a bit of time to find information about it online.

      My first question for you is did I get all the facts right?

      If it’s not too personal, my biggest question is how difficult it was to deal with the shuttle disaster? Obviously the human loss overshadowed the loss of the ant project, but it must have been very difficult having that connection to the flight.

      What eventually happened to the ant module that was activated at NASA at the same time?

      I’d love to see any pictures you might have of the project and permission to post some of them to my blog.

      Thanks again,

  • […] for clearing out the dead ants, I have heard from a student that was part of the original Ants in Space program with NASA, and she assured me that I could refrigerate the ants to slow down their metabolism without harming […]

  • stephen sparks says:


    I am wondering if perhaps there might be any of the “patches” left to be obtained for my hobby? I collect shuttle patches and try to get all that were related.

    I try to know a bit about the patch, who made/designed it. I also keep notes on the reason so this site was excellent to learn a bit about the experiment. That when I show the patch, I help to keep the history alive by explaining a bit about it and not just that it is a cool patch. Which it is though!

    First time I seen this one. Sure would appreciate any help on obtaining one. Thank you.

    Stephen Sparks

Leave a Reply

Security Code:

Dave’s Cool Toys Blog
We post news about new toys on our site, new toys in the market, general toy information, or stuff we just thought was cool (usually toys).

We welcome your feedback and comments.

Be sure to check out our toys at Dave's Cool Toys. We work hard to find toys you won't find at the big box stores. Now go out and play!

Dave Ference

A little disclaimer
A few things we thought you should know:

Some of the links on our weblog will not take you to Dave's Cool Toys, but to other sites. If you purchase an item from that site we may, or may not, receive a commission on that purchase.

All toy reviews are honest and will give you the good, the bad, and the ugly, even if it's a toy we sell. We receive no compensation for any toy reviews.

Links to other sites have been checked by us for appropriate content, but we cannot check every page of every site and every link on those sites, and any changes that may have been made to those sites since we visited them. Children should be supervised at all times while surfing the web.

We've done our best to make sure that information on our weblog is accurate. Some items may be rumors, gossip, or hearsay. We will do our best to make it clear when it is, and will correct anything we find to be wrong.