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For teens, big problems may lead to meaningful research

Both local and global issues inspired these 2020 Regeneron Science Talent Search finalists

Bringing home the beehive
Raina Jain’s STS project started in science class. Her teacher challenged this Riverside, Conn., teen and her classmates to find global problems in the news that lacked solutions. Raina, 17, zeroed in on colony collapse disorder in bees. This happens when worker bees abandon their hive, eventually causing the hive to die. Raina visited a beekeeper, a friend of her parents. She wanted to observe this problem up close. “Every year, he loses 60 percent of his hives,” she learned. “That shocked me.”

Raina Jain is seen with a beehive that she used in some of the experiments for her STS project. Bob Conlan

Parasites, including the Varroa mite, play a role in colony collapse disorder. A chemical called thymol can help rid bees of the mites. Beekeepers often leave out a thymol-containing gel. Bees can apply it to themselves while cleaning. But that gel doesn’t work the same way at all temperatures, Raina notes. On hot days, for instance, it releases higher levels of thymol — amounts that might harm bees. The gel also might limit bees’ ability to fly or even contaminate bees’ eggs.

Raina wondered if there was a better way to protect bees. She developed her own thymol-containing gel. Then she designed a 3-D-printed beehive entrance that would coat the bees. She tested how fast her gel formula would degrade in the sun and wind by applying the gel to a non-bee drone. Raina even kept a beehive in her backyard to test her gel’s effectiveness. (Her dad was surprised when it arrived, she recalls.)

Now, hundreds of beekeepers around the United States are helping Raina further test her invention. “Probably the hardest part of my project was to get people to actually use it,” Raina says. It took time and thousands of emails, she says. But now further data collection is underway, she says.

Watch Raina’s video at: