Bri­tish bees have visi­tors swarm­ing

The China Post - - LIFE - BY AN­GUS MACKIN­NON

The World Expo in Mi­lan is all abuzz about a gi­ant alu­minum hive that hums in har­mony with 40,000 bees mak­ing honey 1,400 kilo­me­ters away in Not­ting­ham, Eng­land.

Artist Wolf­gang But­tress’s in­no­va­tive work is the cen­ter­piece of a bee- themed Bri­tish pav­il­ion that is pulling in nearly four times as many visi­tors as an­tic­i­pated and has be­come one of the must- sees of the six- month world fair in Italy’s eco­nomic cap­i­tal.

Steve Jewlitt- Fleet, the pav­il­ion’s deputy di­rec­tor, told AFP that, since its May 1 open­ing, over 500,000 visi­tors have come to ad­mire a cre­ation de­signed to high­light the im­por­tance of bees to the en­vi­ron­ment and show­case sci­en­tific re­search that could help re­verse an alarm­ing de­cline in their num­bers.

“It’s been a real word- of­mouth suc­cess,” said Jewlit­tFleet.

Visi­tors to the 100m x 20m pav­il­ion fol­low the dance of a bee through Bri­tish or­chard and meadow land­scapes fea­tur­ing na­tive ap­ple trees and wild heather, but­ter­cups and sor­rel, be­fore ar­riv­ing at But­tress’s hive.

As they en­ter the 43- tonne struc­ture, they start to pick up the am­pli­fied hum of the bees in Not­ting­ham Trent Univer­sity physi­cist Martin Benc­sik’s ex­per­i­men­tal hive in Eng­land, where he is us­ing ac­celerom­e­ter tech­nol­ogy bor­rowed from high­tech en­gi­neer­ing to mon­i­tor what is go­ing on in­side.

Ac­celerom­e­ters are highly sen­si­tive de­vices used to mon­i­tor vi­bra­tions in ro­tat­ing ma­chin­ery, no­tably in the au­to­mo­bile and avi­a­tion in­dus­tries.

Now mass pro­duced for use in smart­phones ( they al­low au­to­mated por­trait/ land­scape dis­play func­tions) Benc­sik uses them to track the evo­lu­tion of vi­bra­tions within the hive over days, weeks and months and trans­lates them as changes of the colony sta­tus.

Bee Dic­tionary

This has en­abled him to iden­tify un­in­ten­tional sounds as minute as the crack­ling of a sin­gle bee walk­ing on hon­ey­comb, and build up a kind of dic­tionary of bee vi­bra­tional pulses.

Benc­sik hopes his re­search will lead to the cre­ation of a sim­ple tool that can be placed in the hive and alert keep­ers when some­thing has changed, thus sav­ing them the time and ef­fort cur­rently taken up with hav­ing to open and check hives in­di­vid­u­ally at least once a week in spring.

“The main ad­van­tage is it will en­able the keep­ers to leave the bees that are healthy alone to get on with mak­ing honey, and they will also know if some­thing is go­ing wrong,” ex­plained the French sci­en­tist, who at­tributes his pas­sion for bees to his fa­ther, a keeper of 50 years ex­pe­ri­ence in the Beau­jo­lais wine-grow­ing re­gion.

To en­hance the sound­scape in Mi­lan, when the bee vi­bra­tions reach cer­tain pitches they trig­ger oc­ca­sional bursts of spe­cially recorded pieces of cello, pi­ano, guitar and hu­man voice de­signed to har­mo­nize with the “very med­i­ta­tive, low vis­ceral hum” But­tress dis­cov­ered when he first vis­ited Benc­sik’s hive.

“The irony is that bees are deaf, they com­mu­ni­cate through vi­bra­tion, but talk­ing to Martin I saw the po­ten­tial of us­ing the sounds as a way of re­flect­ing the con­nec­tion be­tween bees and man,” the artist told AFP. Energy lev­els in the hive also dic­tate the col­ors and in­ten­sity of al­most 1,000 LED lights which il­lu­mi­nate the Mi­lan struc­ture, which has be­come par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar at night­fall when the vis­ual im­pact is great­est.

The hive was put to­gether from 169,300 in­di­vid­ual com­po­nents with­out a sin­gle welder be­ing em­ployed.

“Ba­si­cally it is like a gi­ant Mec­cano set, a real piece of pre­ci­sion en­gi­neer­ing,” said Tim Leigh, Mar­ket­ing Di­rec­tor for Stage One, the Bri­tish cre­ative con­struc­tion com­pany which made the hive in 32 lay­ers shipped out to Italy in batches.

Lis­ten to the Bees

Stage One, who made the caul­dron for the Olympic flame at the Lon­don Olympics, won the ten­der for main con­trac­tor, three weeks be­fore it was an­nounced But­tress had won the de­sign com­pe­ti­tion.

“That meant we were able to help choose the win­ning de­sign,” Leigh ex­plained. “De­sign­ers in­evitably want to do some­thing as flam­boy­ant as pos­si­ble but we had to en­sure it was build­able on a tight sched­ule and within what was a rel­a­tively mod­est bud­get.”

Tris­tan Sim­monds, a struc­tural engi­neer who has helped en­sure the sta­bil­ity of gi­ant sculp­tures by Anish Kapoor and Antony Gormley, and BDP ar­chi­tects were also in­volved in a pro­ject, which re­quired 4,500 hours of tech­ni­cal draw­ing to en­sure all the pieces came to­gether safely and on time.

The goal was to pay trib­ute to the bee’s role as the ex­clu­sive pol­li­na­tor of 70 of the world’s 100 most im­por­tant food crops, mak­ing it re­spon­si­ble for al­most a third of the food con­sumed on Earth.

Af­ter its stint in Mi­lan, the pav­il­ion is des­tined to be dis­man­tled and re­assem­bled at a soon-tobe de­cided lo­ca­tion in the UK. “It would ben­e­fit from a back­ground that pro­motes the coun­try­side and sus­tain­abil­ity,” said Benc­sik.

“That is the mes­sage of the pav­il­ion: bees are exquisitely sen­si­tive to the well-be­ing of the en­vi­ron­ment, if it goes wrong the bees will be the first to suf­fer so we should lis­ten to them very care­fully.”

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