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Exhibition of busy, buzzing bumblebees unites science and art

Publication date: Feb 1, 2008 9:46:53 AM

A UCL scientist has designed a unique exhibit of glass, light and bumblebees which is part science experiment, part sculpture, and demonstrates the role of history in shaping visual behaviour.


Event: Lightwave Exhibition

Title: ‘Bee Matrix’

Date: 1 to 9 February 2008

Location: Science Gallery, Dublin, Ireland


Dr Beau Lotto, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, will be exhibiting ‘Bee Matrix’ at the Science Gallery in Dublin, Ireland, in the first week of February. The centrepiece of the exhibition will be a glass cube filled with flying bees, which allows the public to observe the bees’ flight patterns as they learn to recognise different spatial patterns of coloured artificial flowers.

The cube, known as the ‘bee matrix’, contains an array of illuminated discs on one surface, where each disc can be altered in colour so that a huge number of colour options and patterns can be created. When a bee is in the matrix, only one ‘flower’ type contains nectar, and the bee has to figure out which flower that is under a number of different circumstances of varying difficulty. The bees’ flight patterns as they learn to recognise which flowers contain nectar will be recorded in three dimensions and the individual flight paths etched into 200 crystal glass blocks.

These 200 blocks will then be assembled into five towers each illuminated from below, causing the etched traces to glow. Each tower will show a moment in the bees’ history in learning to solve the same perceptual challenges that humans have also evolved to solve.

Discussing the exhibition, Dr Lotto said: “Effectively, we are painting with bees, and each tower represents the different stages of the bee’s learning history. In the matrix, we can control the relationship between the bee and its environment, development and visual behaviour, which gives us important clues about the principles that are common to all visual systems. Namely, that our past visual experiences are vital – we see what it has proved useful to see in the past and it informs our behaviour.

“These experiments will be unique in scientific terms, run in a public gallery with the findings publishable in a scientific journal (assuming the experiment works, of course!). The work truly juxtaposes the creative processes in both science and art. The overall aim of the exhibition is to show the role of history in shaping visual behaviour, and thus the fundamental relationship between the visual mind and its environment.”

Notes for Editors

1. Journalists seeking more information, or an interview with Dr Lotto, can contact Ruth Metcalfe in the UCL Media Relations Office on tel: +44 (0)20 7679 9739, mobile: +44 (0)7990 675 947, out of hours: +44 (0)7917 271 364, e-mail: r.metcalfe@ucl.ac.uk

2. High resolution pictures of the exhibition are also available from Ruth Metcalfe using the above contact details.

3. For more information about Professor Lotto’s work, please go to: www.lottolab.org

4. Lightwave is the first event from Science Gallery, a brand new public creative space located on Pearse Street in the grounds of Trinity College Dublin. For more information, go to: http://www.sciencegallery.ie/