University of Tartu students develop environmental indicator based on life of bees

The students' indicator allows conclusions about the quality of different environments based on the life of bees. (PM/Scanpix)
By Virge Tamme
8/17/2016 12:43 PM
Source: University of Tartu
Category: News

With their idea, the team of doctoral students of the University of Tartu won the first prize at an international innovation competition in Shanghai. More than 700 teams from 40 countries participated.

The Estonian students won with their idea to create a new kind of environmental indicator based on the analysis of the chemical composition of honey that could also help keeping bees in urban environments.

The idea was to create a novel environmental indicator to map out and compare the environmental problems of different urban areas, cities and countries. The system works based on the data of urban beehives and could also promote beekeeping in cities.

By analyzing the chemical composition of the bees’ honey as well as looking at the vital statistics of hives placed in different environments, the indicator can identify different harmful factors as well as make statements about the overall quality of any given place.

A possible way to put the idea into practice is to distribute hives to people living in urban environments. The measurements of air, soil, and water pollution that could be collected this way would then offer a pretty good idea of how healthy life in the particular area is.

This way, a variety of environmental issues could be identified. If a hive doesn’t produce a healthy amount of honey, there might not be enough plant life in the area. If it can’t reproduce properly, other factors, like the use of harmful chemicals, might be an issue.

Such a project would have the additional benefit of directly raising awareness of environmental issues, as the people keeping the bees would see first hand whether or not the place they live is healthy enough for bees to thrive.

The main topic of the Youth Innovation Competition on Global Governance was sustainable development. Students Tõnis Tänav, Kristian Pentus, and Tarmo Polokainen had to make their entry fit this topic.

“The idea had to contribute to the achievement of the UN’s objectives of sustainable development, such as reducing poverty, providing access to education, environmental conditions, and so on,” Kristian Pentus said on behalf of the team. Pentus had participated in the competition also in 2014, along with most of the same team’s members.

They learned about the details of the 2016 competition early on. “We used the advantage and took time before the deadline to submit the project so that we could develop it as thoroughly as possible.”

The idea to link the project with bees and honey came from life itself. Tõnis Tänav had worked briefly with bees and knows beekeepers, which is where the initial idea came from.

The team used the strengths of each of its members—Kristian’s being gamification, Tõnis’ innovation and experience with bees, and Tarmo’s benchmarking.

Pentus said that there was no money award for the main prize of the Most Innovative Team, which they received together with a team from Singapore. “The fact that it was us who won among ingenious projects from 40 countries is a great recognition in itself.”

“The discussions among international teams and communicating with other participants to us were an opportunity to see problems from the point of view of 29 countries. A diverse spectrum of opinions and solutions, where understanding and cooperation were crucial,” Pentus described the event.

The team also participated in the Y20 China summit, which was a pre-event to the G20 summit taking place in the Chinese city of Hangzhou in September.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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