We Are Buzzing For World Bee Day!

World Bee Day takes place on Friday May 20th , the day on which Anton Jansa, the pioneer of beekeeping was born in 1724. The purpose of this day is to acknowledge the role of bees and other pollinators in the ecosystem. There are 100 bee species in Ireland: the honeybee, 21 species of bumblebee, and 78 species of solitary bee. Bees are the most important pollinator of crops and native plant species in Ireland. They are a key component of our wildlife and one of the busiest, least appreciated work forces we have. A study from the Department of the Environment found that bees are worth €53m a year to the economy. In Ireland crops such as apples, strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes, blackcurrants, peppers, courgettes and pumpkins are reliant on bees for pollination. It is estimated that almost three quarters of our wild plants rely on insect pollinators, of which bees are most important.

Melittology is the branch of entomology concerning the scientific study of bees. Melittology covers more than 20,000 species including bumblebees and honey bees. It is a vast field of study that has produced many interesting findings. For example, a study at Cornell University led by Thomas Seeley showed that bees, numbered for a study, dance, beep and butt heads to swap information. Seeley is a towering figure in the scientific study of bees.  He has done a lot of work on what is called swarm intelligence, trying to understand how bees work together to make decisions. This swarm intelligence in seen in schools of fish and flocks of birds as well. Seeley’s work over 40 years has explored this fascinating topic. Like a lot of scientists, he became interested in his topic early in life. As a boy he noticed hives near where he lived  and he has described his fascination. “If you lie in the grass in front of a hive, you see this immense traffic of bees zooming out of the hive and circling up and then shooting off in whatever direction they want to go, it’s like looking at a meteor shower.”

He also spoken extensively about how swarms are like our mind. “I think of a swarm as an exposed brain that hangs quietly from a tree branch,” Seeley said. A swarm and a brain make decisions. Decisions made by the brain are informed by neural signals from our eyes, such as when we see something and try to decide what to do next.  Swarms and brains decide things in a democratic way. Despite being the Queen Bee, the Queen does not decide for the hive. The hive makes decisions for her. In the same way, no single neuron takes in all the information and makes a decision alone. It is millions making a decision. Seeley thinks that this convergence between bees and brains can teach people a lot about how to make decisions in groups. “Living in groups, there’s a wisdom to finding a way for members to make better decisions collectively than as individuals,” he said. So maybe it’s about making people feel they are part of the group making decisions, so it’s about finding a solution for everyone and so it seems, we can learn a lot from bees

If you want to find out more bees please check out www.biodiversityireland.ie and for a great book on bees, we’d recommend Bees of the World by Christopher O’Toole and Anthony Raw and Honey and Dust by Piers Moore Ede, a fascinating travel book describing one man’s journey to various parts of the world through honey!



International Museum Day 2022

May 18th is International Museum Day and there’s a lot to celebrate. The objective of International Museum Day (IMD) is to raise awareness about the fact that museums are an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures and development of mutual understanding, cooperation and peace among peoples. Museums help us to understand so much about the world around us and our place in it. For the past number of  years, Midlands Science has had a partnership with the National Museum of Ireland for our outreach activities during Science Week and we want to wish our friends in the National Museum of Ireland a particularly happy day today on International Museum Day!!

The word museum comes from Latin and was originally from the Ancient Greek, Mouseion, which means a place or temple dedicated to the muses, the divinities of the arts in Greek mythology. The purpose of modern museums is to collect, preserve, interpret, and display objects of artistic, cultural, or scientific significance for the study and education of the public. Museums have changed over time. Museums of natural history in the late 19th century exemplified the scientific desire for classification and for interpretations of the world, for example.

One of the oldest museums known is Ennigaldi-Nanna’s museum, built by Princess Ennigaldi in modern Iraq at the end of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. The site dates from c. 530 BCE, and contained artifacts from earlier Mesopotamian civilizations. Notably, a clay drum label—written in three languages—was found at the site, referencing the history and discovery of a museum item. Early museums began as the private collections of wealthy individuals, families or institutions of art and rare or curious natural objects and artifacts. These were often displayed in so-called “wonder rooms” or cabinets of curiosities. These contemporary museums first emerged in western Europe, then spread into other parts of the world. Museums are currently challenged like many institutions to address issues of sustainability, climate change and issues of deconolisation. In this way, the challenges faced by museums reflect the changes and challenges of wider society.

Science has a key role in museums as it facilitates research, conservation processes, further understanding and a variety of museum techniques which are vital to the research and education processes they provide. Museums are unique places for people to engage with history, ecology, science and a variety of topics and to understand how interconnected many topics are. Many would argue that museums have a vital role in building empathy and understanding. ELIF M. GOKCIGDEM’s book “Fostering Empathy through museums” showed how museums can hold a mirror to society and promote awe and wonder. The line between the arts and science is not to be seen when we experience a truly amazing museum, we are simply experiencing awe, wonder and curiosity.

We are proud to continue to work on outreach with the National Museum of Ireland and would encourage you all to visit some of the amazing museums Ireland has to offer. you’ll learn a lot about everything from astronomy to zoology and in many cases you’ll find a local link back to where you come from. Details on programmes from the National Museum of Ireland can be found on www.museum.ie and we’d also recommend Cats of the Louvre  by Taiyo Matsumoto. It’s  a surreal tale of the secret world of the cats of the Louvre, told by Eisner Award winner Taiyo Matsumoto. After-all who hasn’t dreamt about a night at the museum like Ben Stiller!!

Biodiversity Week

The term biodiversity (from “biological diversity”) refers to the variety of life on Earth at all its levels, from genes to ecosystems, and can encompass the evolutionary, ecological, and cultural processes that sustain life. The air you breathe, the water you drink and the food you eat all rely on biodiversity, but right now it is in crisis – because of human activity. The term biodiversity was coined by biologist E.O Wilson, who died in December 2021. He said “Look closely at nature. Every species is a masterpiece, exquisitely adapted to the particular environment in which it has survived. Who are we to destroy or even diminish biodiversity?”

In Ireland, National Biodiversity Week is all about connecting people with nature. It’s about communicating the importance of biodiversity and motivating people to play their part in protecting it. Midlands Science will be running a series of school workshops with Dale Treadwell of Naturally Wild and RTE Jr, exploring STEM through building natural geodomes and learning about nature and maths. A geodome is a spherical space-frame structure which is made up of a complex network of triangles. The linked triangles create a self-bracing framework that is very strong structurally and yet are elegant and beautiful.

A great resource for learning about biodiversity in Ireland is the National Biodiversity Data Centre, which works to make biodiversity information and data more freely available. It currently holds information on over 16,000 species in Ireland. You can add to their work through their app which is available for free online. Out for a walk and see a fox or an orchid or a hare, record it in the app and play your part in monitoring and protecting Ireland’s biodiversity.