Native American Studies
The World of Dr.
by Cary Shimek
The good doctor, also known as Bob Madsen, is an entomologist and science instructor at Dull Knife Memorial College on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. Madsen has teamed with UM researchers the past two summers to study air movement inside hives and how bees heat and cool their homes.
Madsen came to UM through the Bridges to Baccalaureate Program. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the 5-year-old program allows tribal college teachers and students to work as summer research assistants at larger institutions.
Last year, however, his research at UM was funded by the American Physiological Societys Explorations Program, which supports summer research for Montana teachers, but his research assistant, Delphine Medicine Horse, was funded by Bridges to Baccalaureate.
Anxious to share his research with young people in the Lame Deer area and to stoke their interest in science, Madsen created his beekeeper-suit-wearing alter ego, Dr. Frankenhive.
My intent when I came to UM was not only to find a research project, but to find one that is student friendly, that I could get students involved with, he says. Having worked in schools a lot, I knew Dr. Frankenhive would be a natural for talking to young people about bees and research.
Placed at Fort Missoula during summer 1998, the hive monitored how 10,000 honeybees heated and cooled their home for six months. Madsen spent summer 1999 verifying the 1998 results with a duplicate Frankenhive.
Bees are amazing critters, Madsen says. From what weve seen, they are as good at heating and cooling as people. The cooling mechanisms are far more active and dynamic than anybody had previously believed.
Bees like to keep their hives at a toasty 95 degrees Fahrenheit, so they run into problems at night, when its considerably cooler, and on extremely warm days, when air temperatures creep toward the century mark. Bee research literature says they clump together to keep warm on cold days. Its believed that on hot days they regurgitate water and fan their wings, creating a natural swamp cooler. But nobody knows for certain.
The literature also says beehives act like chimneys, with cooler air coming in the bottom and hot air going out the top. But Madsens research turned that assumption on its head within days of inserting bees into the Frankenhive. Thats not what happens at all, he says. In fact, its hotter at the bottom and cooler at the top. So there are some different mechanisms at work here.
The temperature throughout the whole airspace suddenly becomes nearly the same temperature, Madsen says. It doesnt drop much, but it all becomes the same temperature.
Each day it takes Madsens team about two hours to get the Frankenhive data into a usable form so it can be analyzed. Madsen calls it Frankenhive: The Movie when the team takes this information and uses a 3-D visualization program to project whats happening inside the hive onto a computer screen. The hive box can be seen, with the warm heart of the bee brood shown as a squirming purple mass. When the bees become agitated or the set point temperature is reached, the mass roils and grows.
Now that they have a thermal profile, the researchers want to actually see what goes on inside a dark hive when the set point is reached. They are building an improved Frankenhive that is covered with endoscopes little tubes with lights on them, similar to the fiberoptic light sources used by surgeons. The tubes swivel, so Madsens team will be able to scan all parts of the hive. They also plan to install tiny anemometers instruments that measure wind inside the hive to study air movement.
A better beehive
The researchers also could help combat tracheal mites, a bane of bee colonies. These mites wipe out bees by blocking their breathing tubes, causing them to suffocate. Tracheal mites are controlled by using chemicals inside hives. By understanding hive temperature and air movement, researchers could make recommendations about the best place to apply chemicals.
Understanding how bees regulate their hives also could lead to improved cooling and heating systems for people.
Madsen says his partnership with UMs bee researchers, especially Professors Del
Kilgore and Jerry Bromenshenk, has been extremely rewarding. With funding from the
American Physiological Society, he will place classroom activities on the Internet, making
them available to teachers around the world. His next summer of research in 2000 will be
spent at Cornell University in New York.