Project

Synthetic Apiary

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Synthetic Apiary video

Synthetic environment for bees

Research Team: Markus Kayser, Sunanda Sharma, Jorge Duro-Royo, Christoph Bader, Dominik Kolb. Prof. Neri Oxman.

Year: 2016

Location: MIT Media Lab, 2015, Cambridge, MA

Platform: Co-Fabriaction Systems

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Scanning electron microscope images of the honey bee, Apis mellifera. Image: Dr. James Weaver

Position

Massive decline in bees worldwide, due to various factors affecting bee health such as agricultural chemicals, disease, and habitat loss, has raised alarm. As such, the cultivation of bees, the education about their health, and the advancement of non-standard bee environments has become increasingly important for their survival, and for ours.

Honeybees are ideal model organisms because of the historical interplay between their communities and humans. Bees, as agents of cross-pollination, are an essential part of our agricultural production; without them, we would not have the fruits and the vegetables that nourish our lives.

Number of bees in a typical hive during summer

50000
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Visible honey and wax construction in the Synthetic Apiary environment
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Hive construction within the Synthetic Apiary environmen

Process

The Synthetic Apiary explores the possibility of a controlled space in which seasonal honeybees can thrive year-round. Light, humidity, and temperature are engineered to simulate a perpetual spring environment.

Bees are provided with synthetic pollen and sugared water, and evaluated regularly for health and well-being. In this initial experiment, humans and honeybees co-habitate, enabling natural cultivation in an artificial space across scales, from organism- to building-scale.

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Completed Synthetic Apiary environment prior to the bees’ arrival
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Honeybee hive installation and monitoring in the Synthetic Apiary environment
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Honeybee hive installation in the Synthetic Apiary environment
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Honeybee hive installation and monitoring in the Synthetic Apiary environment

Age of apiculture in years

9000

Policy

Our architectural experiment incorporates several technological and biological investigations, and provides a setup for behavioral experiments regarding both bee fabrication capabilities and health.

At the core of this project is the creation of an entirely synthetic environment enabling controlled, large-scale investigations of hives.

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Optical microscope image of a honeybee wing
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Optical microscope image of honey
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Optical microscope image of beeswax

Credits

Collaborators: Dr. James Weaver (Wyss Institute), Dr. Anne Madden (North Carolina State University)

Support: Mori Building Company, Mori Art Museum, Loftworks.

The Best Bees Company: Dr. Noah Wilson-Rich, Philip Norwood, Jessica O’Keefe, Rachel Diaz-Granados

Space Managers: Andy and Susan Magdanz, Daniel Maher

Videographers: James Day, the Mediated Matter group

Media Lab Facilities: Jessica Tsymbal and Kevin Davis. MIT EHS: Lorena Altamirano.

All images and videos courtesy of Neri Oxman and The Mediated Matter Group.

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