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Abigail Edwards ’15 Received Neuroscience Research Grant

Essex Fells student spends summer studying bees

By RUSS CRESPOLINI Editor The Progress

ESSEX FELLS – Many students spend their summers studying the smell of surf, sand, backyard barbeques and chlorinated pools.

Resident Abigail Edwards, Muhlenberg class of ’19, spent her summer studying smells and their impact on bees. Specifically the biology major is conducting research at Muhlenberg College this summer on the olfactory responses of bumble bees.

“Bumble bees play a vital role in pollinating both flowers and agricultural crops,” said Edwards. “We know that olfaction is an important sensory system to bumble bees, and modifications to olfactory processing can change how bees perceive their environment.”

Edwards is a 2015 graduate of Mount St. Dominic Academy had a month to spend home in Essex Fells after the spring semester before the eight week research program took over the rest of the summer. But research projects like this is something that Edwards is accustomed to.

“I engage in research year-round at Muhlenberg College,” Edwards said. “And this is my second time receiving the Neuroscience Collaborative Research Grant from the Sentience Foundation to help fund my summer research.”

More than 60 students are collaborating with faculty on a variety of research projects this summer as part of Muhlenberg’s vibrant research community. Topics can be student- or faculty-driven, and span the natural and social sciences, humanities and arts.

Students are typically on campus for 8-10 weeks of full-time research and receive a stipend, housing and college credit.

The undergraduate research participants join in a weekly summer seminar series in which students discuss their work and an annual poster session allows students to present their work to the campus community at large. Students may also travel off-campus to present their scholarly work in their discipline at regional, national and international conferences, with travel funds provided by the school.

Many students take the opportunity to continue their summer research during the academic year by registering for independent study credit or a research assistantship under the guidance of a faculty member. These programs provide hands-on experience with a faculty mentor to complement their classroom education with practical work experience.

Edwards, who said she is planning to attend graduate school, says the primary aim of her project is to determine if lab distilled essential oils (EOs) are viable stimuli for field experiments with bumble bees. Her research also help determine if the bumble bees respond differently to lab-distilled, store bought, and natural vegetative odors.

“Bumble bees play a vital role in pollinating both flowers and agricultural crops. We know that olfaction is an important sensory system to bumble bees, and modifications to olfactory processing can change how bees perceive their environment,” Edwards said. “However, we do not fully understand the relative importance of olfactory cues from flowers, particularly in regards to how bumble bees locate floral resources.”

Edwards said that understanding how bumble bees identify and discriminate between odors, which in this case are lab-distilled peppermint, store bought peppermint, and peppermint plant material, may contribute to conservation efforts.

“This research explores a new method for neuroethologists to test flora that bumble bees encounter while foraging in both a lab and field environment. By using lab distilled essential oils, we can create a realistic outdoor environment, and test whether or not bumble bees can discriminate between lab distilled, store bought, and natural vegetative odors,” Edwards said. “If bumble bees are able to discriminate between the three odors, it shows that commonly used store bought oils are not stimulating a realistic foraging environment. The aim of this is ultimately to understand the impact of agrochemical odor-pollution at a field relevant scale.”

Click here to read The Progress article online.

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