Of bees, children and the cool-ness of science
Karen A. Newman
“Real science has the potential to not only amaze, but also
transform the way one thinks of the world and oneself.” So starts a wonderful
study on the vision of bumblebees published recently in the journal Biology Letters.
But what on the surface is a paper about bees learning to solve puzzles is at heart
a case for the importance of engaging children in science. It continues, “This
is because the process of science is little different from the deeply resonant,
natural processes of play.”
Called simply “Blackawton bees,” the paper notes its
principal finding: “We discovered that bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) can
use a combination of colour and spatial relationships in deciding which colour of
flower to forage from. We also discovered that science is cool and fun because you
get to do stuff that no one has ever done before.” The article can be found
I received a copy of the paper from my brother-in-law, who has
a PhD in experimental particle physics. Several years ago, he left his postdoc work
to pursue a career focused on a different kind of analytic research but never for
a minute sidelined his curiosity about the natural world. Cool for me. When I first
started working for Photonics Media, he suggested we pursue an article on the status
of optical cloaking – a subject he thinks is pretty exciting. I still have
the notes from that conversation. Handwritten in pencil, the notes are all over
the place with ideas for topics to cover, and are a reminder of the excitement for
my new job that the discussion generated.
My brother-in-law has children of his own, so his reaction to
the “Blackawton bees” study came both as a scientist and a father. He
worries that as children grow up, they learn to shut down their creativity, because
they are told that things can’t be done or are too difficult; instead of losing
that natural curiosity about the world around them, he would much rather they be
encouraged to explore it.
I’ve sent him a link to Google Science Fair, launched on
Jan. 11 to encourage children to submit projects relevant to the world they live
in. I am excited to see the experiments that are submitted. Check it out at http://www.google.com/events/sciencefair/index.html.
I also invite you to investigate the rest of this issue, then
get back to the cool science project you’re currently playing around with.
And let us know when you’re ready to share your results with the photonics
industry. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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