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Lab of Misfits

Lab of Misfits programmes: Human perception Bumblebees  Robots ‘My School‘ Street science Musical spaces    Media: Books, television, radio, popular press

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Research on simple systems such as bumblebees has the potential to explain the biological principles that are common to all visual animals, and can therefore help us to understand how we all see.

The reason why we study the visual system of bumblebees alongside that of humans is that while they have very different types of brains, their brain evolved to solve the same challenges that our brain evolved to solve. Bumblebees – like primates – see in colour using three receptors; they can recognise surface colour under different conditions of illumination and even experience the same illusions of colour that we see.

Unlike in humans, however, bumblebees’ neural anatomy is highly stereotyped when they are born – i.e., one brain is much like the other. This, then, creates the possibility of directly measuring the effects of experience on neural anatomy and thus the relationship between brain structure and behaviour.

Our Bumblebees programme incorporates a series of physiological and behavioural experiments that aim to explain how insect vision overcomes the most important challenge faced by any visual animal: the fact that the image that falls on the eye does not directly represent the conditions in the world (reflectance, illumination, distance, etc) that generated it. Because all images are uncertain, understanding how the brain of the bee learns to generate robust behaviour in the fact of uncertainty will provide an important foundation for rationalizing the principles of perception in all systems, including humans.



Blackawton bees


In our Blackawton Bees project, we have again performed truly novel experiments on bumblebees at a primary school in Devon. Except this time we have completely removed all boundaries: The experiments were not devised by the ‘scientist’, but by twenty-five 8-to-10 year-old children.

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Seeing bees see

Seeing bees see


Following the flight of the bumblebee for science and art.

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Seeing bees see