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The Green Life: Kids Do Groundbreaking Bee Research

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December 23, 2010

Kids Do Groundbreaking Bee Research

Child and bees A recently published study in Britain's Royal Society science journal begins with "Once upon a time." It provides no historical or scientific context, and its diagrams are hand-drawn in colored pencils. But the researchers, a group of 8- to 10-year-olds from an elementary school in Devon, England, weren't inspired by scientific literature. They were inspired by their own observations of the world.

"The true motivation for any scientific study (at least one of integrity) is one's own curiosity," wrote a neuroscientist from University College London, who transcribed the children's words into text. The study, considered a "genuine advance in the field" by the editors of Biology Letters, investigates the way bumblebees see colors and patterns.

The young scientists asked questions, hypothesized the answers, designed "games" to test the hypotheses, and analyzed the data. Training bees to go to targets of different colors by giving them a sugar reward, the students discovered that the insects use a combination of color and spatial relationships in deciding which color of flower to forage from.

The "kid-speak" study may be unconventional, but it represents science in its truest form, and proves that sometimes all a breakthrough takes is unlimited wonder. "We discovered how fun it was to train bees," the young researchers conclude. "Science is cool and fun because you get to do stuff that no one has ever done before."

--Molly Oleson

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