Primary school bee project published by Royal Society

Children from Blackawton School work on research project (Image: Beau Lotto)

A study of bumblebees by a group of Devon children has become the first primary school project to be published in a Royal Society scientific journal.

The children, aged between eight and 10, discovered that bees could be trained to recognise colour patterns.

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

The editor of the journal, Biology Letters, said it was a "world first".

The children from Blackawton tested bees to see if they could learn to use different colour patterns to find their way to sugar water, while avoiding salt water.

They detailed their principal findings in the paper: "We discovered that bumblebees 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."

Table from Blackawton School children's research project [Source: Biology Letters] Some of the children's results tables were published in the journal

The Royal Society said the subject area was generally poorly understood, and the children's findings were a "genuine advance" in the field.

"This paper represents a world first in high quality scientific publishing," said Professor Brian Charlesworth, editor of Biology Letters.

"I hope that it will inspire other groups to realise that science is not an exclusive club but something that's available for everybody."

The children worked with Beau Lotto, a neuroscientist from University College London.

He edited together the detailed description of the methods and conclusions, which is published in the journal, from discussions he recorded with the children.

"Real scientific work is full of uncertainty - that's why it's so exciting - but I find that this is what's lacking in education, where subjects are too often presented as a series of dull factual certainties," Dr Lotto said.

A commentary by two scientists, LT Maloney & NH de Ibarra, concluded that the experiments were "modest in scope but cleverly and correctly designed and carried out with proper controls".

"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 scientists added.

They said the pupils had had "light supervision" from Dr Lotto and their teacher.

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