Archive for November, 2012

Kids doing Grownup Science: Blackawton Bees

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Every scientist is a kid in the purest way. Science has the potential to amaze, transform and inspire the way every single person on earth thinks of the world and themselves. The parallel between children and science is simple: every kid always wants to know the “whys” of things. When I was a kid, I remember being very curious about everything. I wanted to know every detail on the world surrounding my family and me. This characteristic even drove my mother crazy since she used to call me the boy of the “whys”; but it was the indication that I wanted to be a real scientist. This feeling got even deeper when in high school I had a biology teacher that gave classes on genetics and Mendel’s law. That was the moment I knew I wanted to work with genetics! And why am I writing about this curiosity that was always haunting me? Well, science is cool because we can try (at least…) to understand the “whys”. The instinct of curiosity is inside every kid, shy or outgoing, because children is always asking about the stuff around them. Kids in secondary school routinely carry out scientific experiments for classes and science fairs. However, the “discoveries” and/or “inventions” presented by them are never published; except for the kids from a group of British schoolchildren that might be the youngest “scientists” ever to have their work published in a peer-reviewed journal. The article was published in Biology Letters, and is authored by twenty-five 8- to 10-year-old children from Blackawton Primary School. These kids reported that buff-tailed bumblebees can learn to recognize nourishing flowers based on colors and patterns (see their article “Blackawton bees” here). The kids from this school asked the questions, hypothesized the answers, designed “games” to test it (which corresponded to the experiments), analyzed the data and wrote the article in “kids language”. Of course all of this had adult supervision by the British scientist Beau Lotto and teachers from the Blackawton Primary School (see more information in the article “Schoolchildren announce bumble-bee breakthrough in top science journal” from The Guardian). Using simple puzzles to direct bees to colors having sugar or salt, the kids discovered that bumblebees can use a combination of color and spatial relationships to decide which flowers they are directed to; this indicates that bees can indeed “memorize” information. In real life this might mean that bees are able to collect information and remember it when going to different fields in nature. The article was featured in a TED Talk by Lotto and one of the students named Amy O’Toole (all twenty-five kids were authors of the article) and also in a Featured Editor’s Choice from the prestigious Science Magazine. In addition, there was a special comment about their article in the journal that it was published and discussions about it in the scientific community all over the world. After this breakthrough (I mean the first kids publishing their discoveries in a peer-reviewed journal), it is a fact that the students of Blackawton Primary School are very lucky because they have had an educational experience which, sadly, most school science students never get to have (and I myself didn’t). They carried out a genuinely original piece of work and published it, or in other words, they went through all the scientific process from discovery to publication (it is worth to note that it took almost 2 years from the time of writing to the acceptance and publication of the article!). The kids also wrote in their article a conclusion that every scientist has come to at one point in their career: “Science is cool and fun because you get to do stuff that no one has ever done before”. Well, I wanted to describe this exceptional example about the kids from Blackawton Primary School to show that every scientist is like children – we want to know the answers to the “whys” in the world surrounding us. It does not mean it is an easy job, but that is why we love what we do!