Derek Mitchell

To save honey bees we need to design them new hives

Colony Mass – Survival Analysis

Insulating Hives in Hot Weather – Podcast


Initially set out on a career in Mechanical Engineering but switched to the world of Microelectronics via Physics and thus later to Telecommunications and now back to Mechanical Engineering with a perhaps surprising application area –  honey bees.

Research interests

Honeybees are an extended organism. That is to say their immediate environment is closely bound into their behaviour. A consequence of the fact that they spend over 80% of their lifespan in their nest. They don’t hibernate and must keep part of their nest all year above 18C yet they can be found where the winters go to -40C. Their nest is not only a place to raise young, which must kept within 34C +/- 1C to successfully develop, but is also a sugar refining factory, changing sugar solution concentrations from 20% to 80+% in quantities of over 1Kg per day.

It is clear that heat transfer inside and to the outside of the nest is a integral to the life and success of honeybees.  But almost nothing is known about it. This is partly because the expertise is associately usually with non-biological concerns and partly because it is difficult to study or measure  heat flow in  a box full of venomous insects and even more difficult when those insects are deep inside a massive tree.  This is where computational fluid dynamics comes in. It allows simulation and measurement  of complex and  difficult to instrument systems. Earlier studies have shown by experimental simulation that there is an order of magnitude difference between man-made hives and their natural abode of tree hollows in just the lumped thermal conductance of the enclosure, taken as a empty enclosure and a simple heat source. Because honeybees have to date only been studied in manmade boxes and not in trees or tree like structure , The internal  structures the honeybees build that affect heat transfer have not been measured nor has the distribution of the honey bees, in what is a dramatically different thermal  environment. Therefore part of the research will involve studying and measuring what honeybees do in tree like structures to provide data for the CFD work.