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Ready, camera, action: Bringing bee research to ASU Online students

April 6, 2023

OURS program to reach next generation of beekeepers, bee lovers and bee researchers

This Earth Month, let’s talk about bees.

We can learn a lot from the almost two million bees at Arizona State University. But we could know more if we could see inside the hive.

School of Life Sciences Research Associate Professor Hong Lei has launched a new research opportunity through the Online Undergraduate Research Scholars (OURS) program using technology that records footage from a transparent observation beehive to provide an unparalleled look inside for online students.

“I wondered how studying honeybees online would even be possible,” said Jamal Bell, who is studying biological sciences through ASU Online. “Once I saw how they conducted it with the cameras, I thought it was interesting and wanted to get that experience.”

Throughout the coursework, students developed their hypotheses and research projects centered around the different patterns and behaviors related to temperature and humidity using the captured footage. For example, Bell’s research centered around the position of the queen bee when laying her eggs.

“The students come up with so many interesting questions,” Lei said. “Questions way beyond our expectations, and I get excited by looking at the questions the students are asking and posting online about.”

As part of the hybrid experience, online students were invited to visit ASU’s Tempe campus in March for a five-day immersion experience, including visiting the university’s Bee Lab Annex, one of the largest bee labs in the United States. Many students traveled from other states or out of the country to participate in hands-on research.

“I have no lab experience because I don’t have easy access to a lab from home,” said Michelle Boutin, a biological sciences student from California. “This program allowed me to participate in research from afar with the web cameras but also with the added in-lab experience that I don’t usually get.”

Boutin tailored her research on the correlations between the external parameters of temperature and humidity with the length that honeybees travel from the hive. 

“Nothing can replace physically coming to the lab and seeing the beehive in front of your eyes,” Lei said. “We are shrinking the gap between the on-campus and online students regarding the learning research experiences.”

During the week, students learned about cell culture and molecular biology and worked in labs with Lei, Assistant Teaching Professor Susan Holechek and research technologist Cahit Ozturk.

Chelsea Doop, an online biological sciences student, said her favorite part of the week was extracting bee DNA and wants to encourage others to get involved in an online research project that might interest them.

“You can still be a part of a lab. You can still do the work without feeling that something is holding you back,” Doop said. “I am a single mom of two kids from the other side of the country and can still participate. That’s the coolest thing in the world.”

Streaming the hive

The live observation hive contains nearly 14,000 honeybees in glass to protect the bees and allow students to observe them in their colonies.

A three-camera setup records 4K footage to provide clear resolution to see every detail inside the hive. Students can access footage remotely and download and view previously recorded footage stored online.

“I’ve been an educator for 30 years and this is exciting. We can finally provide research opportunities online,” educational technologist David Roman said. “These students are having a good time doing the research and learning a lot.” 

Roman and his colleague Kevin Tinnin, a senior systems architect at ASU’s Research Technology Office, were instrumental in setting up the technology used for the student’s research.

“We can expand up to eight cameras and still have plenty of bandwidth,” Tinnin said. “We can use the same technology and format in other research capacities.”

The three-camera setup records 4k footage that students can access remotely to view and download.

Why bees?

Bees are a great research model.

A colony of bees is like a superorganism; each bee in the hive acts similarly to a cell in another organism, as all the bees work together in highly organized structures, according to Lei.

Honeybees also produce invaluable products like honey, beeswax, and pollen.

In 2019, honeybees produced 157 million pounds of honey in the U.S., with an estimated value of around $159 million, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

On top of that, honeybees' pollen production accounts for $15 billion in added crop value. But the population of honeybees is declining at a dramatic rate year after year.

“We have started losing many bee hives, sometimes at rates of 30 to 40 percent every year,” Ozturk said. “So, we need to figure out how to stop this because they are a critical factor in the environment.”

That’s why bee research now and in the future is so important. 

Current researchers in the Social Insect Research Group use honeybees for various research purposes, including behaviors, ecology and evolution.

As a bee lover for over 30 years and ASU’s primary beekeeper, Ozturk was excited to inspire the next generation of bee lovers, beekeepers and bee researchers.

“When I see a student – it doesn’t matter, elementary, college – they are our future potential researcher or beekeeper,” Ozturk said. “Telling them about honey bees, beekeeping and other issues we face, hopefully, we can find some help in the future.”

Research technologist Cahit Ozturk works with online students in ASU’s Bee Lab Annex.

Become a bee lover yourself

• Try out a class: In Queen Bee Rearing, Ozturk teaches community members about the many factors that contribute to rearing queen bees. 

• Read more: The sweet side of bee research.

• Watch a movie: Movie on the Lawn: "Bee Movie" on Thursday, April 13.

Video and photos by Meghan Finnerty/ASU.

Stephen Perez

Marketing and Communications Coordinator , The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

ASU public affairs student, team wins wildfire plan competition

12 groups from around the globe took part in NASPAA policy simulation

April 6, 2023

A simulated community is safe from wildfires due to the decision-making skills of an Arizona State University graduate student and his teammates.

Ethan Clay, a student in the School of Public Affairs, just happens to be a wildland firefighter, which came in handy during the 2023 Wildfire Simulation Competition. The competition, sponsored by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration, pitted teams of students against each other as they learned how to respond to the challenges communities face in creating a Community Wildfire Protection Plan. A man in yellow firefighting clothes sits in a small rock outcropping. Ethan Clay, a wildland firefighter and graduate student in the ASU School of Public Affairs, represented a local community coalition during the competition. Photo courtesy Ethan Clay Download Full Image

His team won the global challenge, besting 11 other teams that also had previously won regional contests, including eight in the U.S. Clay and his teammates competed against University of Colorado Denver students before moving on to conquer their global challengers. They assumed roles of people you’d expect to find around a conference table deciding how to protect a town surrounded by woodlands. Each team member was given a scenario describing which part of the community they would represent in the plan creation process. Clay represented a local community coalition.

Clay, who will graduate with a Master of Public Policy degree this May, was enrolled in one of Associate Professor Yushim Kim‘s classes when she encouraged him to enter the competition. The School of Public Affairs is part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

Clay was already familiar with how wildfire protection plans and policies are put together from his time as a firefighter. He understood the mechanics of involving stakeholders from government, business, nonprofits, environmental groups and the community at large.

“The process can be contentious because the priorities of each group or person may be different,” Clay said. “The plan comes together out of compromise.”

Kim said the simulation is designed to mirror reality as closely as possible.

“We teach these things in the classroom,” she said. “But what this brings is that we have a technology now that can create an artificial environment, and students can go and plan and learn what it looks like.”

Clay, who will return to his firefighter job later in May, said he was responsible for roleplaying the concerns community members would have about smoke and the threat of fire.

“It gave me newfound appreciation for what it’s like to be others,” he said. “It will help me with the communities I’m serving, how to compromise with all these officials and people.”

Kim said she is very happy that Clay had such a meaningful experience. “Hopefully, more students can be exposed to such an environment,” she said.

School of Public Affairs Director and Professor Shannon Portillo said she is “incredibly proud of Ethan’s achievement. This is the kind of applied learning that is core to academic programs ... at ASU.”

It’s important for students in his field to understand how to bridge gaps in trust between stakeholders in a policy situation, Clay said. The goal is for community stakeholders to view policy creation as a way to devise solutions that are best for all involved, rather than “the government telling people what to think.”

“It’s a theoretical environment, but it’s really hands-on,” Clay said. “I have a better idea of how to do this in the real world. We will all be in public service, so it’s about how I can expand my own view of things, and to account for the full spectrum of good policymaking.”

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions