Eight-year-olds publish in top scientific journal

Posted by Kate Taylor

A group of British schoolchildren have achieved an honor only to be dreampt of by many scientists - having a paper accepted for publication by a prestigious Royal Society journal.

The paper, which reports novel findings in how bumblebees perceive colour, appears in Biology Letters.

The eight-to-ten-year-old pupils at Blackawton School in Devon investigated the way that bumblebees see colors and patterns.  They found evidence that bees can learn and remember cues based on colour and pattern in a spatially complex scene.

The Royal Society says that the field of insect colour and pattern vision is generally poorly understood, and that the childrens' findings represent a genuine advance in the field.

"Our pupils devised, conducted and wrote up an experiment which resulted in genuinely novel findings, so they deserve to be published," said Dave Strudwick, Head of Blackawton School. 

"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."

The publishers stress that the paper went through the standard peer review process.

Its presentation is slightly unconventional, as it contains no references  - the existing scientific literature was just a tad inaccessible for the children. It has, however, 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.

"The experiments are modest in scope but cleverly and correctly designed and carried out with proper controls to avoid possible artefacts," the commentary reads. 

"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."