British Kids Youngest Ever to Publish Scientific Study in UK Journal

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals: Big Kids

I Scientist film from Storymakers TV on Vimeo.


If your fourth grader hasn't yet been published in a major scientific journal, sorry, but she's just been bested by a group of kids in the United Kingdom.

Twenty-five kids between the ages of 8 and 10 have become the youngest scientists ever to be published in a scientific journal from the UK's prestigious Royal Society, Discover reports.

The kids, who attend Blackawton Primary School in Devon, England, designed and executed an experiment to study the foraging habits of bumblebees. The paper, published this week in Biology Letters, describes how bumblebees can learn which flowers to forage nectar from with more flexibility than anyone had thought, and is based on fieldwork the kids carried out in a local churchyard, according to Discover.

The Blackawton bee project was undertaken as part of a program called "i, scientist," which is designed to get students to actually design and implement research themselves. While the kids were mentored by University College London neuroscientist Beau Lotto (a dad of one of the students) and Blackawton's head teacher, David Strudwick, the work is all their own, the magazine reports.

The kids developed the question, devised a scientific hypothesis, designed the experiments, performed all the data analysis and wrote up the findings for publication. They even drew all the paper's figures themselves -- with colored pencils, Discover says.

Lotto tells Discover he believes the trick is to get kids to see the scientific process as a game, which then turns science education into "a more enlightened and intuitive process of asking questions and devising games to address those questions."

His theory seems to have been proven by the Blackawton students, whose paper was peer-reviewed by neuroscientists Larry Maloney and Natalie Hempel. In their commentary, the scientists praise the paper and its young researchers, noting the experiments are "modest in scope," but they "hold their own among experiments carried out by highly trained specialists."

They also point out that the paper lacks statistical analysis and references to previous scientific literature, but conclude that "the experimenters have asked a scientific question and answered it well."

Apparently, not everyone agrees that the lack of context does not weaken the study, as editors of several top journals, including Nature, Science, Current Biology and PLoS ONE loved the idea, but decided not to publish the paper because it lacked references and was written in kid-speak, Discover reports.

Lotto recently has moved his lab to the Science Museum in London, making it into a public space where kids and adults can come together to design experiments. He is waiting for long-term funding to make it a permanent space for anyone to do real science, the magazine reports.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.