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Chemistry

Michael Olthoff

Michael Olthoff

Michael Olthoff jumped into the third year of Dr. Ed Geels’ research on finding a way to raise honey bees without the use of toxic chemicals. Bees around the country have been dying, and beekeepers are having to use stronger and stronger chemicals to kill parasites that introduce bacterial and viral diseases into hives. Geels’ twenty hives have up to 80,000 small cell bees each, bees that are slightly smaller than today’s bees that have been bred to be larger in hopes they will produce more honey. Geels’ bees show little evidence of the mites that are killing millions of bees across the country. Olthoff checked the hives carefully, looking for signs of disease and mites.

A major advance in the project came with the decision to replace all of the frames in the hives with food-grade plastic small cell frames so that large cell bees cannot come in and expand the wax cells and take over the hives. This change also keeps down the number of drones in a hive; drones tend to be infected with parasites more easily. Geels and his student assistants have also found that small cell bees have a shorter life cycle, allowing them to mature before the mites typically infest the cells, and that they seem to sense the presence of parasites, dragging them outside the hive.

David Christiansen and Rachel Antvelink participated in the continuation of another NPURC chemistry research project. Dr. Carl Fictorie has been trying to develop biomass-based catalysts for making biodiesel fuel. Last summer’s student research ended with some evidence that he could use charcoal rather than sulfuric acid and modify it to serve as such a catalyst. This summer Christiansen and Antvelink built a reaction vessel to make charcoal from corn stover—the non-kernel parts of the corn. Although it is not yet at a level of what commercial biodiesel production would need, they had some positive results. Fictorie enjoys looking for relatively simple systems that can be used effectively and that make stewardly use of locally available resources.