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The Conversation: How home security resembles dancing honeybees; No new Einsteins to emerge if science funding snubs curiosity

August 21, 2017 — 

The following are excerpts published in The Conversation from Frank LaBella, University of Manitoba professor emeritus, department of pharmacology and therapeutics:

How home security resembles dancing honeybees

The earliest forms of biological communication between single-celled organisms have survived evolution to exist in all species, including humans.

One of those conserved mechanisms enables insects to relay acquired information to their nest mates. The data gathering process is remarkably similar to that found in sensors commonly used in homes to detect human activity outside.

As a longtime academic whose research in recent years, in collaboration with an electronic engineer, has focused partly on sensors, I’ve been fascinated to explore how bees, like security sensors, process electric fields to monitor their environment.

(As an aside, a current, personal research project concerns another common mechanism that enables insects and humans to identify each of a vast multitude of environmental chemicals and odorants.)

Knowledge about feeding places, for example, can be relayed from honeybee to honeybee. The means of communication is a special dance of which there are two forms.

Read the full story here. 


No new Einsteins to emerge if science funding snubs curiosity

All of the great scientific findings of the past emanated from the initiative of individuals spurred by unimpeded curiosity and determination.

Their research was financially supported by themselves or benefactors, and required only the availability of time for contemplation and conjecture.

For several years starting in 1958, when I began my research as an instructor in pharmacology, I had relatively free rein to follow my instincts, ideas and impulses. As a result, I delved into studies in many different areas: neuropharmacology, mechanisms of general anaesthesia, digitalis drugs, receptor pharmacology, endocrinology and aging, to mention a few.

What I consider some of my most significant research findings were the result of curiosity-based screening of chemical compounds in receptor-binding assays — or the type of work often denigrated by grant application reviewers who earmark research dollars as “fishing expeditions.”

Another fishing expedition embarked upon with my colleague, the late Carl Pinsky, also led to the development of a patented electronic sensor, which, in turn, led to the formation of a venture-capital funded company.

But over the years, a formidable bureaucracy has taken hold at universities as research “productivity” became an obsession. The aforementioned fishing expeditions were no longer an option. Grant success became dependent on publication — the more papers, the better.

Read the full story here


The Conversation is a not-for-profit collaboration that enables researchers to pitch their ideas and then work with its professional editors to craft an article highlighting their work. For more information, please visit the website.

The University of Manitoba is a founding member of The Conversation.


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