There is quite a cockroach infestation in our chemistry building here (although come to think of it, I haven't seen any bugs in at least 6 months, hmmm...), so I was naturally curious when I came across this paper in Science. For a second think back to all of those science fiction movies you watched as a kid (and you probably have seen at least a few if you are a scientist), especially the movies involving robots--in particular robots that were integrated into human society and took on some seemingly human emotions (R2D2 and 3CPO from Star Wars are my all time favorite robots)...Now think about the social integration of robots on a slightly smaller scale (with insects), and that is exactly what José Halloy and coworkers have accomplished.
American cockroaches typically recognize chemical cues from their neighboring cockroach friends, and utilize these signals to act as a group and make self-organized choices. Self organization complements the preexisting environmental signals and coexists with status levels between the insects such as leader/worker relationships. Halloy and coworkers claim to have socially integrated cockroach-sized robots into a cockroach collective. How was this achieved? You guessed correctly--through chemistry! Basically by extracting and characterizing the hydrocarbons found in the cockroaches' exoskeleton, researchers identified compounds that were key in inter-cockroach recognition. By coating the robots in these extracts (which included compounds such as 6,9-heptacosadiene and 3-methylpentacosane), cockroaches accepted these robots and, even more amazingly, allowed the robots to influence decisions made by the cockroach community.
My only question is who got to perform the extraction of the cockroach exoskeleton into dichloromethane? That just sounds pretty icky to me.