Science-- there's something for everyone

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Kids do science

With the help of Beau Lotto from University College London, 30 kids from Blackawton Primary School designed and conducted experiments on bees, and then analyzed the results. The resulting paper was published in Biology Letters.

The eight to ten year old kids were interested in whether bees could solve problems in the way that humans could. In particular, they tested whether bees could learn to distinguish a blue flower surrounded by yellow flowers from a yellow flower surrounded by blue. Doing so correctly would lead the bees to a treat of sugar water rather than salt water. The children also wanted to know whether all the bees performed in the same way, or if some bees had distinct learning capacities.

To answer these questions, the kids first taught the bees to enter a plexiglass box containing four panels of 16 circles each, each containing a little tube of sugar water. Later, these tubes might contain salt water or nothing at all. For the experimentation phase, the circles surrounding the tubes were colored in varying patterns of yellow or blue. After being trained which colors within each pattern would yield the sugar water, the bees went to the correct colors over 90% of the time.

Figure 1.

Figure 1. Conditions and responses to ‘test 1’ (control). (a) The pattern of colours that the bees were trained to and tested on in their first test (see text for explanation). (b) The selections made by all the bees tested (dots show where each bee landed and tried to get sugar water). (c) A table showing the preferences of each bee during testing (see text for explanation).

Interestingly, while all the bees went to the sugar-rewarding tubes most of the time, many bees clearly preferred blue over yellow, or vice versa. For example, one bee went to 31 correct yellow circles and 4 incorrect yellow circles, but never bothered to visit any blue circles.

The bigger point, of course, is that anyone can learn to enjoy and participate in science!

Hat tip: Pharyngula.