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Page last updated at 12:08 GMT, Wednesday, 22 December 2010
Devon pupils' bee study published
BY Jemima Laing
BBC Devon

Blackawton Bees research - Blackawton Primary School research

"Science is cool and fun" might not be the normal terminology you expect to find in scientific papers.

But pupils from a Devon school have had their research into how bumble bees perceive colour published in an internationally recognised journal.

Their "modest but cleverly designed" science project was published in Biology Letters in what the journal's editor called a "world first".

And their findings have been described as a genuine advance in the field.

They worked with a professional scientist but the paper was "entirely conceived and written" by the pupils from Blackawton Primary School.

Their experiment consisted of finding out if bees - Bombus terrestris -could be trained to use different colour patterns to distinguish sugar water from water with salt in it.

We discovered that bumble-bees 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
Blackawton pupils' principal finding

"I'm delighted that this work is going to be published in Biology Letters," said Dave Strudwick, Blackawton School's headteacher.

"Our pupils devised, conducted and wrote up an experiment which resulted in genuinely novel findings, so they deserve to be published.

"But even more importantly, they had the chance to work with an actual scientist and become one themselves - not just watching the scientist at work but actually participating in and creating the whole scientific process. "

Professor Brian Charlesworth FRS, Editor of Biology Letters said: "This paper represents a world first in high quality scientific publishing and I'm proud that Biology Letters is supporting this highly innovative approach to science education.

"This is a unique way of encouraging children's engagement with science by getting a group to write about their work in a publishable format."

Blackawton Bees research - Blackawton Primary School research
The children are aged between eight and 10

The project was co-ordinated and funded by Beau Lotto, a neuroscientist who is based at UCL's Institute of Opthalmology and Head of Lottolab Studio.

He is currently developing a 'living lab' at London's Science Museum, funded by the Wellcome Trust, which enables the public, including school children, to participate, design and run real science experiments on site.

"The publication of this work is an important step in showing what we can achieve if we're prepared to approach science in a way that's creative, daring and, above all, fun," said Dr Lotto.

As with all papers accepted for publication in Biology Letters, the paper successfully went through peer review but, unusually, it contains no references due to the inaccessibility of the existing scientific literature to eight to ten-year-olds.

The experimenters have asked a scientific question and answered it well
Hempel and Maloney

But it has been published alongside a commentary by Laurence T Maloney of New York University's Center for Neural Science and Natalie Hempel de Ibarra of Exeter University's Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour.

In their commentary Hempel and Maloney wrote: "The experiments are modest in scope but cleverly and correctly designed and carried out with proper controls to avoid possible artefacts.

"They lack statistical analyses and any discussion of previous experimental work, but they hold their own among experiments carried out by highly-trained specialists. The experimenters have asked a scientific question and answered it well."

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