Thousands are maimed or killed by land mines yearly, some of which date back to World War II in Northern Africa, and some of which are being newly planted in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet hope may be found in the work of University of Montana biologist Jerry Bromenshenk, who has assembled a team of Montana University System colleagues to work on de-mining using average bees. Bromenshenk’s research has already led him to the conclusion that bees can be trained to smell and gather around land mines. This is accomplished through the use of a “fake flower,” which was developed by Steve Rice, the chair of the UM department of electronics. In Pavlovian fashion, the gizmo convinces bees to associate the smell of land mines with the smell of syrup that bees seek, Rice says.
“We’ve known for years part of the puzzle was training bees…like flying bloodhounds…but the other part is how to see the bees when you’re in an area you can’t walk across,” Bromenshenk says.
That puzzle piece has now fallen into place through the use of lasers.
“Does this laser system discriminate bees well enough that you could actually use it to map the bees across a minefield? The answer is unequivocally ‘Yes,’” says Bromenshenk, who tested the laser system at a mine field on a military base in Missouri.
Aside from the obvious worldwide humanitarian benefit, Bromenshenk also sees the patented devices as a possible economic boon for Montana.
“Since we developed the technology and there are firms in Montana that can produce all the hardware needed, we can put together a worldwide humanitarian de-mining service…this is a tremendous potential growth industry in terms of jobs for Montana.”
Thanks to bees, lasers and research, attendees of the upcoming international “Night of a Thousand Dinners,” an event aimed at raising awareness and aid for mine victims, may finally have a solution to discuss.
Colin Henderson, another UM biologist and member of Bromenshenk’s team, says, “It’s putting biology back into places where people can appreciate what we do.”