‘Medic bee’ earns St. Joseph students national second place in ExploraVision competition

  • Written by Nathan Whalen
  • Published in Local
Tommaso Giliberti, left, Isaac Mesfin and Conrad van Tienhoven, students at St. Joseph School in Seattle, won the regional competition, then placed second nationally for grades 4–6 in the ExploraVision science competition for their concept of an artificial intelligence “medic bee” that can protect honeybee hives. Photo: Courtesy St. Joseph School Tommaso Giliberti, left, Isaac Mesfin and Conrad van Tienhoven, students at St. Joseph School in Seattle, won the regional competition, then placed second nationally for grades 4–6 in the ExploraVision science competition for their concept of an artificial intelligence “medic bee” that can protect honeybee hives. Photo: Courtesy St. Joseph School

SEATTLE – Three fourth graders at St. Joseph School have placed second in a national science competition for their concept of an artificial intelligence “medic bee” to protect honeybees from colony collapse disorder.

“Bees pollinate 70 percent of the world’s crops that feeds 90 percent of the world’s population,” explained team member Tommaso Giliberti. But colony collapse disorder has killed 40 percent of the bees in the U.S., according to their project materials.

To address that situation, Giliberti and his teammates, Isaac Mesfin and Conrad van Tienhoven, came up with the idea of the medic bee that can communicate with bees in a hive.

“It’s a little bee that will go into hives and give medicine to bees,” said Mesfin, who was part of St. Joseph’s team that won the national K–3 division in 2019.

The medic bee concept won this year’s team first place for grades 4–6 in Region 6 of the ExploraVision science competition, a partnership between Toshiba and the National Science Teachers Association. Their concept advanced to the national competition; the team’s second-place finish in the national competition was announced May 6.

Each boy will receive a $5,000 savings bond, an Amazon Echo Dot and an iPad, according to Laura Laun, who teaches the STEAM (science, technology, arts and math) club at St. Joseph School. Their coaches and mentors will also receive iPads, Laun said in an email.

Normally, the top two teams in each division get an expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for the awards ceremony, but this year ExploraVision is holding a virtual awards ceremony on June 5, Laun said.

“We are thrilled and immensely proud of our St. Joseph AI Medic Bee student team and their teacher advisors,” Patrick Fennessy, St. Joseph’s head of school, said in a news release after the students won the regional competition. “Our fourth-grade students created a next-level solution addressing an important real-world problem.”

Problem-solving for the future

Open to students in grades K–12 students, ExploraVision “challenges students to envision and communicate new technology 20 years in the future through collaborative brainstorming and research of current science and technology.” The program engages students in problem-solving, team-based learning, critical thinking and communication skills.


The artificial intelligence medic bee would communicate with real bees in the hive, injecting them with medication when trouble is identified. Photo: Courtesy St. Joseph School

During their research, the St. Joseph students learned about a robotic fly and a bee sensor backpack developed at the University of Washington, according to their project abstract. They also learned about a robotic bee developed at Harvard’s Wyss Institute and the smartphone app Bee Health Guru, which helps track the health of hives.

They determined a lot of technology must be developed for the AI bee to become reality — sensors and eyes, a stinger to administer medicine to bees, and a scent that matches other bees in the colony. The wings on the medic bee would produce static electricity, recharging its tiny battery, and the bee has to be small enough to fit inside a hive, van Tienhoven noted.

The school had 16 teams participate in this year’s ExploraVision competition (view a video of each team briefly describing their project). Students in grades 3–5 participate through the after-school STEAM club; middle-school students participate through an elective class. Eight St. Joseph teams won honorable mentions.

Laun said students hone their research skills and figure out accurate sources and how to cite them. They use math skills to analyze data, art skills to illustrate ideas and they are exposed to technology.

“There’s a problem and we get to solve it by inventing something,” Giliberti said.