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The architectural design of smart ventilation and drainage systems in termite nests

Singh, Kamaljit; Muljadi, Bagus P; Raeini, Ali Q; Jost, Christian; Vandeginste, Veerle; Blunt, Martin J; Theraulaz, Guy; Degond, Pierre; Singh, Kamaljit


Kamaljit Singh

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Assistant Professor - Chemical & Environmental Engineering

Ali Q Raeini

Christian Jost

Veerle Vandeginste

Martin J Blunt

Guy Theraulaz

Pierre Degond

Kamaljit Singh


Termite nests have been widely studied as effective examples for ventilation and thermoregulation; however, the mechanisms by which the nest properties are controlled by the micro-structure of the outer walls remain unclear. Here, we combine multi-scale X-ray imaging with three-dimensional flow field simulations to investigate the impact of the architectural design of nest walls on CO2 and heat transport as well as on water drainage. We show that termites construct an outer wall that contains both small and percolating large pores at the micro-scale. The network of larger micro-scale pores in the outer wall provides a permeability that is 1-2 orders of magnitude greater than that of the smaller pores, and a CO2 diffusivity that is a factor of up to eight times larger. The larger pores and resultant high porosity also reduce the solid mass required for nest construction by ~11-14%. This is energetically favorable and reduces the overall weight of the nest, thus lowering the risk of collapse. In addition, the pore network offers enhanced thermal insulation to the inner parts of the nest and allows quick drainage of rainwater thereby restoring the ventilation and providing structural stability to the wet nest. One Sentence Summary: Ventilation and drainage in termite nests are controlled by micro-scale morphological features of the outer walls.


Singh, K., Muljadi, B. P., Raeini, A. Q., Jost, C., Vandeginste, V., Blunt, M. J., …Singh, K. (2019). The architectural design of smart ventilation and drainage systems in termite nests. Science Advances, 5(3), Article eaat8520.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 7, 2019
Online Publication Date Mar 22, 2019
Publication Date Mar 1, 2019
Deposit Date Jul 17, 2020
Publicly Available Date Jul 17, 2020
Electronic ISSN 375-2548
Publisher American Association for the Advancement of Science
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 5
Issue 3
Article Number eaat8520
Public URL
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