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Nov. 14, 2022

Broadcom MASTERS® Award Winner - Rory Hu (S5, E22)

Broadcom MASTERS® Award Winner - Rory Hu (S5, E22)

The Effects of Pesticides, Caffeine & Tea Polyphenols on Honey Bees

On today’s show, Jeff talks with Rory Hu, the $10,000 winner of the Broadcom Foundation and Society for Science MASTERS® Scholarship for middle school students. MASTERS is an acronym for Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars. Rory’s research is titled “The Effects of Pesticides, Caffeine and Tea Polyphenols on the Visual and Olfactory Learning and Memory of the Honey Bee”.

Being in middle school, Rory is in the seventh grade. That is correct - seventh grade! On today’s episode, Rory talks with Jeff explaining how she came up with the idea for her research, the papers she found and read on her own, the search for a local beekeeper to supply bees, her testing methodology and results. 

You will want to listen to Rory explain her research and the challenges she faced, having never worked with honey bees before she started her research. Afterwards, make sure to click on the links in the show notes to see her research.

What were YOU thinking about in 6th and 7th grades?

We hope you enjoy the episode. Leave comments and questions in the Comments Section of the episode's website.

Thank you for listening!

Links and websites mentioned in this podcast: 

Honey Bee Obscura


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S5, E22 – Broadcom MASTERS® Award Winner - Rory Hu

Jeff Ott: Welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast presented by Bee Culture. Beekeeping Today Podcast is your source for beekeeping news, information and entertainment. I'm Jeff Ott.

Kim Flottum: I'm Kim Flottum.

Global Patties: Hey, Jeff and Kim. Today's sponsor is Global Patties. They're a family-operated business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honey bees. It's a good time to think about honeybee nutrition. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will ensure that they produce strong and healthy colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow.

Now is a great time to consider what type of patty is right for your area and your honeybees. Global offers a variety of standard patties as well as custom patties to meet your needs. No matter where you are, Global is ready to serve you out of their manufacturing plants in Airdrie, Alberta and in Butte, Montana or from distribution depot across the continent. Visit them today

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Hey, everybody, thanks for joining us today. I hope you have your bees all buttoned up and ready for the winter in whatever way that works for you wherever you live. Of course, those of you listening in the Southern Hemisphere, your season is just getting underway, isn't it? I hope you have a good season ahead of you.

What were you doing and thinking in the sixth and seventh grades? I'll give you a moment to think about it. Can you really remember? I can only think of generalities. Nothing specific. Let me think here. I was just learning to play guitar, probably learning the chords and bar chords and et cetera. I was a boy scout, just starting my merit badge journey to Eagle Scout, and I did get my first beehive that summer. It was an observation hive my father helped me build. You? Well, be set to be humbled.

On today's show I have the privilege to talk to Rory Hu, a seventh grader in the San Jose area who just won a $10,000 scholarship from the Broadcom Foundation and Society for Science MASTERS scholarship competition. The Broadcom MASTERS, which is an acronym for Math Applied Science Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars is a premier science and engineering competition for middle school students.

Rory's research, as you will hear her describe, is titled The Effects of Pesticides, Caffeine and Tea Polyphenols on the Visual and Olfactory Learning and Memory of the Honey Bee. Back to my original question, were you thinking about anything like that between sixth and seventh grade? [chuckles] Now, me neither. Rory is an amazing young person and you'll want to hear about her research coming up next. First, let's hear from our friends at Strong Microbials.

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Jeff: While you're at the Strong Microbials site, make sure you click on and subscribe to The Hive, their regular newsletter full of interesting beekeeping facts and product updates. Hey, everybody, welcome back to the podcast. Sitting across the virtual Zoom table right now is Rory Hu. Rory, you've just completed a fantastic research project, but the most amazing thing is that you're in sixth grade. I'll let you introduce yourself and then we'll delve in a little bit deeper about your research projects and why you're here.

Rory Hu: Sure. Thank you so much for having me on this podcast. My name is Rory Hu and I'm currently a seventh grader now, actually, at Harker School. I did my research in sixth grade and now I'm in seventh grade and I'm 12-years old.

Jeff: Fantastic. As I mentioned earlier before I brought you on, that you were entered into the Broadcom MASTERS, Math Applied Science Technology Engineering for Rising Stars, program for the Society for Science middle school awards and their STEM project. When you first came to my attention, you were part of the 30 finalists back into the summer. The competition took place in December. Why don't you tell me a little bit about the competition, the science project. Let's not get into your project yet, but let's talk about how did you find out about the competition and the selection process?

Rory: Actually, I think it was my mom who first got me introduced to the competition and told me that I could do a research project for the Broadcom MASTERS. Actually, it just started as doing a research project and then I decided to enter it into my regional fair. Then that allowed me to go to my state fair and eventually to Broadcom MASTERS.

Jeff: The name of your project is The Effects of Pesticides, Caffeine and Tea Polyphenols on the Visual and Olfactory Learning and Memory of the Honey Bee. Now, that is a wild title and definitely not something I would've thought of, or many of our listeners for that matter would've thought of in sixth or seventh grade. How did you come up with that research topic?

Rory: I think it all started when, because I am a reporter for Nickelodeon, I like to read the news. One day I was reading a news article about the global decline of the honeybee population. This got me interested into maybe doing a research project about it to help stop the decline because honeybees are so important to the ecosystem, as you all know very well.

I did a little research on why the honeybee population is declining and I found that harmful pesticides, specifically miticides used to kill the Varroa destructor can cause a decline in the honeybee's learning and memory. Then I found another paper talking about how caffeine and later on tea polyphenols have been found to improve the learning and memory of the honeybee.

I decided to combine these two papers to see if I could do a research on how tea polyphenols and caffeine could repair the learning and memory of the honeybee after the application of these harmful pesticides, and therefore try to stop the decline in their learning and memory.

Jeff: [laughs] I'll be honest with you, Rory, and maybe I'm sharing too much, but in sixth grade, I wouldn't have gotten past the honeybee. I had honeybees in sixth grade, but anything about polyph-- What is a polyphenol? The tea polyphenol, am I pronouncing that right?

Rory: Tea polyphenol. It's a compound found in the tea flower, also known as the Camellia sinensis. I use the tea tea polyphenols by having powders of natural tea. Then I use the powders in my sucrose.

Jeff: You're looking at the effects of the pesticides, caffeine, and the tea polyphenols. I'm probably butchering that word. Let's talk about your science project. Do you have any prior experience with honeybees?

Rory: I actually did not have any prior experience with honeybees before beginning my research. I have to say, I was actually a little scared of honeybees before I started this research.

Jeff: Let's jump to the end. How do you feel about honeybees now?

Rory: I'm not afraid of honeybees anymore, I'm happy to say. I actually think they're really cute. Through working on them from this project, I got to know the honeybees really well.

Jeff: You just warm the hearts of thousands of our listeners because everybody loves the honeybees on this show. Let's talk about your experiment. When you were thinking about your project and your experiment, what were your research objectives? What were the questions you asked and that you wanted to test?

Rory: I wanted to look at if, first, pesticides were given to the bees, and then tea polyphenols, that if were given to them, would the bees learning and memory be repaired and perhaps even be better than the control piece learning and memory. That was the main question I asked. I also looked at the differences between the bees smell-related and sight-related learning and how tea polyphenols and caffeine affected each one differently.

Jeff: You're testing the three different effects on learning and memory. Did I get that correct?

Rory: Essentially, yes. I tested the effects of tea polyphenols, caffeine, and the miticides I used. I actually used three different miticides, which were acaricide thymol, oxalic acid and formic acid to test the honeybee learning and memory.

Jeff: Did you work with a local beekeeper?

Rory: Yes. It actually took me a while to find a beekeeper that would be able to lend me the bees. I actually had to post for help on the beekeeper's guild but eventually I was able to find a beekeeper Anna who would lend me her bees and she taught me basically how to handle them.

Jeff: Were you doing it at home or were you doing it in the yard or in a lab somewhere?

Rory: I actually did it at home in my garage. I had two setups for my experiment, the spatial and the Proboscis Extension Reflex or PER. For the spatial experiment setup, I had a large box and I put four fake flowers in the box. The goal of the spatial test was to see if the bee could learn to recognize which flower always had sucrose in it of the four fake flowers so that when I removed the sucrose, the bee would go to that flower first and that would show that the bee had learned.

Then for the Proboscis Extension Reflex or PER setup, that was basically when I had the bees harness and a harness that I designed made of tape, in which I tested using Pavlovian conditioning. That's basically a method of conditioning where basically I'll provide the bee with sucrose and a peppermint scent over and over and the goal is that over time the bee will extend its proboscis for the peppermint scent alone because it's learned to associate the sucrose with the peppermint scent. Those were the two types of experimentation I used in my research.

Jeff: That was in a specialized box you created?

Rory: The specialized box that I made was for the spatial experiments.

Jeff: Okay. The spatial.

Rory: Yes. I had two separate experiments with different types of settings. The Proboscis Extension Reflex experiments, I just had the harness, bees and gave them the sucrose and peppermint. The spatial ones had the box. The reason I wanted to have these two experimental setups actually is that the spatial experiment tests the bees learning and memorizing a whole because they have to use visual and olfactory and spatial senses in order to be able to find their way around the box and learn which flower always produced sucrose, but for the Proboscis Extension Reflex, it's more specific to one type of scent. For example, for the olfactory smell-related experiments, when I provide the bees with the sucrose and peppermint, that's only testing how they learn with their smell. Then if I give them the dry Q-tip and the sucrose, then that's conditioning them only for the visual senses.

Jeff: How did you harness the bees? You said you used tape?

Rory: Yes. Basically, I just wrapped the bees in layers of tape and that provided a secure and efficient method that I actually found could be better than some methods that were previously used in my home setting. What I actually did is I froze the bees and then they were immobilized, so I was able to put them on a piece of and then make the harness around them.

Jeff: You said you ended up freezing them or chilling them so they slowed down or quit moving. You didn't freeze them solid like ice cubes, I take it.

Rory: Well, because then they wouldn't have come back from that. Just chilling them, and then once they woke up, I would actually feed them sucrose to begin with so they could calm down.

Jeff: As you're setting this up, you may have alluded to a little bit about this, but what challenges did you face?

Rory: I think that one of the major challenges I had was with the spatial experiment, which was the setup with the box and four fake flowers. When I first inserted the bee into the box, they didn't try to search for the flowers. They instead panicked and tried to escape from the box. In order to fix this problem, I had to make several changes. First, I decided to take out the decorations that I put in there to make it seem more a natural environment to make it less distracting.

Then I decided to make the box size smaller from a 15 by 15 by 7.5 to a 6 by 6 by 3.5-inch box. The reason I did this is that if the environment that the bee in is smaller, it takes less time for the bee to explore the environment and get used to it and stop panicking. Then I eventually had to downsize my experiment one more time to get a plastic portion cup, one of those tiny serving cups with the salsa in them, and stick the Q-tips through the top. That was one of the challenge I faced and I had to create several different designs for the spatial experiment in order to finally have the more successful setup.

Jeff: Okay, we're through the experiment. Let's take a quick break right now to hear from one of our sponsors, and when we come back, we'll find out about the results of all your testing.

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Jeff: Welcome back everybody. We're sitting here talking with Rory Hu, and we are discussing the experiment she did for the Broadcom MASTERS STEM project involving honeybees. We just got through all of the setups. What did you find out in all your testing?

Rory: in the end, I found out that, first of all, the tea polyphenols and the caffeine were able to repair the learning and memory of the honeybee after the application of the pesticides. This is really important because that means that beekeepers like you can add tea polyphenols and caffeine to your sucrose and that can improve the learning and memory of the honeybee or even repair it after the application of these miticides.

The second thing I found out is that the bees actually learn better in the Proboscis Extension Reflex experiment with their visual ability rather than their olfactory ability, but the tea polyphenols and caffeine improved the olfactory ability more than the visual ability. I also did a side experiment when I tested if the bees could distinguish between different colored Q-tips, and I found that the bees could not distinguish between the colors.

Jeff: One of the things I didn't ask you is how did you test the pesticides and what chemicals did you use to expose them to measure the effect?

Rory: I used the pesticides, acaricide thymol, oxalic acid, and formic acid. The way I exposed them is that I took the pesticides and I kept the bees in a box with them. The goal was, even though this isn't the way you're supposed to treat the bees with these pesticides if you have an actual hive, the reason I did this is just because I'm testing the effects of the bees being exposed to these miticides that I use as opposed to having the bees actually be treated for the Varroa mites.

Jeff: This is a fantastic study. You saw that the honey bees were needing some help in, there's a lot of research going on that you chose for your project, and then you chose the effects of these commonly used chemicals that are used in the treatment of different mites that are affecting the honey bee. All beekeepers use some form of them. I shouldn't say all, but many beekeepers use some form of these chemicals and/or bees are exposed to these chemicals in the environment. It's really cool that you saw all this and you put it all together in one research project. Besides the technical information that you learned, I assumed you had to do a lot of statistical analysis.

Rory: Yes. I used the chi-squared contingency test to analyze my results. I guess basically the chi-squared contingency test is a test that measures if you have a table of data, is there a significant variance in this data.

Jeff: See, that's something that as a sixth-grade or seventh-grader I wasn't even aware of, so super impressed that you're sitting there and you're doing the chi-square analysis. Was that the first time you ever did that?

Rory: Yes, it was the first time I've used the chi-square test. I watched some videos on Khan Academy to help me learn how to do this analysis. Then I wrote C++ code to calculate the chi-squared statistics so I didn't have to do it all by hand.

Jeff: I was just getting ready to ask you if chi-square is a function within an Excel spreadsheet, but it's a separate program that you coded yourself in C++?

Rory: Yes.

Jeff: I'm impressed. You're middle school?

Rory: Yes.

Jeff: That's great. Do you have any colleges knocking on your door already? [laughs]

Rory: Not yet, but I'm hoping soon.

Jeff: Yes. Well, with research like this, I would have to think so. What did you learn about yourself during all this? You're talking over a several-month period that you did do research. What did you learn about yourself?

Rory: I guess, in general, I learned-- not about myself, but in general, I feel like I learned that if I persevere and I keep trying to do something and if I really set my heart to it, then I can make it work. It worked in a really big way that I didn't even imagine that I was able to get into the Broadcom MASTERS top 30 and win such a high award. I think in general, I just learned if I work hard for something and I don't give up and I keep trying to make it the best it can be, then it can work out.

Jeff: That's a great life lesson, I can tell you that, for sure. Let's jump to the end. When you came to this, you were in the top 30, but we just found out this week, as we mentioned earlier, that you won this, correct?

Rory: Yes.

Jeff: Fantastic. Congratulations on that. Is that a scholarship award?

Rory: Yes. It's a, actually, $10,000 award that's used toward my education.

Jeff: That's wonderful, and to go towards your education, if you were to just throw a dart at the board, what college comes to mind that you would really like to hear from?

Rory: Probably Harvard. It's one of the best colleges there is.

Jeff: Oh, definitely. You're well on your way. For someone who can set a goal and achieve it and overcome the obstacles and hurdles in the way, I am impressed and admire your tenacity. That's fantastic. What about your parents, your mom is sitting there in a room with you. Hi, mom. What do you think about Rory?

Rory's mom: We are super proud of her at this moment, you can imagine, because when she first started this project, we never imagined it would go this far. She worked really hard in the last past year. She collected data, she overcome her fear of the honey bees and she learned so much through this project. After she collected data and she read, she did a thorough research before her project.

She read a lot of related research paper. Then she saw everyone's doing the data analysis at the end their paper and she wants to push her research to the higher level. She says, "I want to do this statistic analysis as well." Then she has to learn from scratch. For us, sixth grader to learn advanced statistic analysis is pretty hard. She went through all that and it's beyond imaginable for a 12. At time he did research, she was the only 11.

Jeff: You must be very proud of her. Just sitting here across the virtual Zoom table, I'm very proud of her. That's quite an accomplishment.

Rory mom: It is, yes. During the award ceremony when her name was announced, we were having such happiness just rushing through us.

Jeff: No, that's very nice. Thank you very much for being here with Rory and this important work that Rory did on the honeybee research. It's exciting to hear what's next. Any future plans, any future research for honeybees in your schedule?

Rory: I've been thinking about it because I think that my research is important to the bee industry because if beekeepers add tea polyphenols and caffeine to their sucrose, that can repair the learning and memory. I think to further this research, I might look at maybe more into how tea polyphenols and caffeine can affect the bees olfactory and visual learning and memory differently. Also maybe look into more, again, trying to continue to improve my spatial experiment.

Jeff: Would you please keep us in touch as you progress down this road and as you learn more things about the honeybees. Feel free to reach out to us. I'm sure our listeners would love to hear how you are doing.

Rory: Definitely

Jeff: We've been talking with Rory Hu from San Jose, California, who's a seventh-grader and had just won the Broadcom MASTERS STEM project. It's a program of the Society for Science for middle school students. Thank you Rory for joining us on Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Rory: Thank you so much for having me. I had a great time doing this interview.

Jeff: Thank you. That about wraps it up for this episode. Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple Podcast, wherever you download and stream the show. Your vote helps other beekeepers find us quicker. Even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you like. You can get there directly from our website by clicking on reviews along the top of any webpage. As always, we thank Bee Culture: The Magazine for American Beekeeping for their continued support of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

We want to thank our regular episode sponsor Global Patties. Check them out at Thanks to Strong Microbials for their support of this podcast. Check out their probiotic line at We want to thank Betterbee for their longtime support. Check out all their great beekeeping supplies at Thanks to Northern Bee Books for their support of bee books old and new with Kim Flottum. Check out all of their books at

Finally, and most importantly, we want to thank you the Beekeeping Today Podcast listener for joining us on the show. Feel free to leave us comments and questions at 'leave a comment' section under each episode on the website. We'd love to hear from you. Thanks a lot everybody.

[00:25:20] [END OF AUDIO]

Rory HuProfile Photo

Rory Hu

Kid Reporter

Rory is a 7th grader at the Harker Middle School in Silicon Valley, California. She is named to Broadcom MASTERS top 30 for her project titled "The Effects of Pesticides, Caffeine and Tea Polyphenols on the Visual and Olfactory Learning and Memory of the Honey Bee". She was a former TIME for kids kid reporter in 2020 and currently a kid correspondent for Nickelodeon's News show "Nick News". In addition to Science and Journalism, she also loves Math, writing, dancing, piano, coding and more. She has a curious mind that is always open to ideas and eager to learn.