Who knew that? Bees!

As lockdown is gradually eased, we are still learning about this new virus. We were told right from the start that particular groups of people (for example the elderly) were most likely to be hardest hit. This was refined further, with evidence being reported that obesity increased susceptibility. Evidence has shown that black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities have been hit especially hard. Initially, we were told the virus attacked the lungs. More recently it has been discovered that it can be present in lots of other organs, including the brain. Young people were likely to have minor symptoms and yet there have been recorded cases of previously healthy young people dying. The mantra has been ‘following the science’. As we can see, the science has been developing over time. Guidance has been offered based on information known at the time. As more knowledge is obtained, the guidance is updated, but more knowledge does not just fill in the gaps, it can highlight further gaps that were previously 

In the past week, I have gained a small (but fascinating and disparate) amount of knowledge from a daily newspaper, a magazine and television – knowledge about the natural world and people, which inspired me and left me wanting to know more. The first piece of new knowledge was that bumble bees can induce plants to flower up to a month early by making small incisions in their leaves. They do this when there is not much pollen available, such as in early spring. The study, which provided evidence of this, was published towards the end of May and was reported in many newspapers and science magazines and online. The researchers tried to emulate the bees and created similar holes to those made by the bees. While these did stimulate the plants into flowering early, it was not as early as when the holes were made by the bees. I find it fascinating: how did the bees know to do this in the first place? The other lesson offered by this study is that it was generated by a student observing the behaviour of the bees and being curious enough to wonder why they were making small cuts in the leaves on plants without flowers but not taking pieces away or eating them. More recently, in a running magazine, I read an article on the life of Kihachiro Onitsuka, Founder of the running shoe manufacturer ASICS. The whole article is enthralling, but one part of it in particular caught my interest. When designing a shoe for marathon runners, Onitsuka investigated the cause of blisters, which marathon runners suffered widely from at the time. I have had many blisters in my time, the most recent caused by flip flops while working from home during those few weeks of summer we had. I have always thought that they were caused directly by the mechanical friction of the skin, but it turns out that they are produced by the body’s response to the heat generated by the friction. The solution was to provide cooling in the shoe. The first attempt was to use water and, when that failed, the shoe was designed to draw in and expel air to cool the 

My third piece of new knowledge comes from a BBC documentary, which at the time of writing is still available on BBC iPlayer. It is the story of a 13-year-old girl, Hazel Hill, who had a particular affinity for mathematics. Her father worked in the Air Ministry and was involved in updating the design of early models of the Spitfire in the 1930s. Hazel’s father wanted to justify doubling the number of guns on the plane, but was unable to do the necessary calculations on his own. So he enlisted the help of Hazel. Working together at night at the kitchen table, they generated the graphs and the data necessary to support the increase. And, as they say, the rest is history. My immediate reaction to this was ‘why did we not know this before?’. With all the past and present initiatives to encourage school children, and girls in particular, into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and ultimately jobs, why has this amazing, motivating PR opportunity gone begging?

You are probably wondering what all this has to do with non-destructive testing. The answer is nothing directly, but everything indirectly. As described above, the bee study came about by someone just observing what was going on around them and having the curiosity to investigate further. The design of a better marathon running shoe was produced by worrying about the solution to a problem, identifying the root cause and then not being afraid to try and fail until the answer was found. Mr Hill enlisted the help of someone he knew had the skills to help him achieve his objective, irrespective of age and gender, and together they put in the concerted time and effort to succeed. If we all adopt these characteristics, what new NDT knowledge could we 

Please note that the views expressed in this column are the author’s own personal ramblings for the purpose of encouraging discussion within NDT News. They do not represent the views of Jacobs or 

Letters can be mailed to The Editor, NDT News, Midsummer House, Riverside Way, Bedford Road, Northampton NN1 5NX, UK. Fax: +44 (0)1604 438301; Email: ndtnews@bindt.org or email Bernard McGrath direct at bernard.mcgrath1@jacobs.com

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