Colin Henderson — College of Technology
Colin Henderson had just started teaching at UM when serendipity drew him into the world of bees. Henderson, a wildlife biologist by training with a research background in chemical ecology, had an office adjacent to that of Jerry Bromenshenk, whose bee research was already under way. The two got to talking, and the ideas started flowing. In 2003, the two professors founded a company called Bee Alert Technology Inc.
In the past six years, they have found massively overlooked potential for bees in a variety of tasks – as if their honey, wax and crop pollination weren’t contribution enough. Take, for example, bees’ 98 percent accuracy in detecting land mines when trained to associate the explosives with food. In initial tests, bees took a mere two hours to locate mines in a grid that would have taken weeks for a team of mine-sniffing dogs. This piqued the interest of the U.S. Department of Defense, which gave Bee Alert a $4 million grant to continue its research.
Bee Alert Technology’s resourcefulness with the insects doesn’t end at the minefield. Microscopic hairs on bees’ bodies collect particles in the air they fly through, making them perfect sampling tools for air pollution and biological weapons. When placed in a “smart hive,” equipped with a variety of sensors and scanners that send information back to a lab, air tests can be conducted remotely. Henderson and Bromenshenk also study pathogens that may cause Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious affliction that has caused bees to disappear altogether.
When not conducting bee research, Henderson teaches classes in anatomy and physiology at UM’s College of Technology, the fastest-growing entity in the Montana University System. Henderson says his research informs his teaching. “It rounds me out,” he says. “It augments what I teach, and it motivates students.”