The Men Who Stare at Bees
Biology student Rolish Singh Phougeishangbam from India is doing a research internship at Freie Universität
Sep 18, 2014
The Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research (INSPIRE) program launched by the Indian Ministry of Science and Technology awards five research internships a year to outstanding scholars. One of them is Rolish Singh, from Delhi. He has been a scholarship recipient at Freie Universität Berlin since July, working as part of the research group headed by neurobiology professor Randolf Menzel.
Rolish Singh currently spends most of his working days in a shed, with a fan running. The fact that the summer sun beats down directly on the wooden building for hours and the air inside is humid doesn’t trouble him: “It would be even hotter in Delhi,” the 22-year-old laughs. He says he found Germany fairly chilly at the start, wearing thick pullovers for the first few days. “I couldn’t be happier!” he says, and then turns his focus back to a beehive located behind an acrylic glass panel.
When do the bees start dancing?
He registers when one of the worker bees begins to dance in order to tell the other bees about a food source. The goal of the experiment, which Rolish Singh is performing on behalf of Professor Randolf Menzel, is to associate electromagnetic fields with the bee dance. Hours of observation are needed in order to make a connection later on between the electrical field measurements and the actual events and processes observed.
The junior scientist will spend three months at Freie Universität. The INSPIRE program provides support to outstanding Indian students in the sciences, from secondary school graduation up to the possible doctorate level.
“I took an exam when I was finishing school, and I was in the top five in my graduating class in my state. That meant I was eligible to apply to INSPIRE,” Rolish Singh explains. He had to leave his home state of Manipur, one of the easternmost states in India, to study biology in Delhi.
“I have always found insects fascinating”
The decision to specialize in insects was a natural one, he says: “I grew up in one of the most biologically diverse habitats on earth, and I always found insects fascinating.” When Rolish Singh, who just recently completed a master’s degree program, learned of the opportunity to do a research internship at Freie Universität as part of the INSPIRE program, he sent his application directly to Professor Randolf Menzel.
Rolish Singh, who lives in the Schlachtensee student housing complex, will be in Germany until September. After observing the colony, he will start analyzing and interpreting the data that have been collected. Alongside his work, though, he also has time for other activities: A huge soccer fan, he joined the crowd at the Brandenburg Gate to welcome the German national team back from Brazil and their World Cup win this summer. “That was a big thrill!” says Singh Phougeishangbam – like everything else he has experienced and seen in Germany so far.