September 23, 2015

Student Wins Humor Prize for Bee Sting Research

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Many people vividly remember their first bee sting, but Michael Smith grad will be sure to remember the more than 100 stings he experienced all over his body from his skull to his penis, which eventually yielded his Ig Nobel Prize.

Last Thursday, Smith received The Ig Nobel Prize, which honors humorous scientific research that “first makes you laugh, then think.” The award presentations are a parody of the Nobel Prizes and often feature real Nobel Laureates awarding Ig Nobels to researchers.


Clad in a honeybee costume, Smith received the Entomology and Physiology Prize along with his collaborator Justin Schmidt, the creator of the Schmidt Pain Index, which measures the pain of stings from different insects on a scale of zero to four.

“Humor is really important in science,” Smith said. “Nobody should be taking themselves too seriously. It’s a good way to get people interested and encourages people to explore new stuff.”

Smith, who is a graduate student in neurobiology and behavior, said his research on honeybee stings intended to study the pain levels of stings in correlation to location on the human body.

Working with Schmidt to determine which parts of the body to test, Smith said he had honeybees sting him on 25 body parts three times, rating the pain on a scale from one to 10.

According to Smith’s report, the body parts where stings hurt the least were the skull, middle toe tip and upper arm, which all scored a 2.3, whereas the body parts that hurt the most were the nostril, upper lip and the penis shaft, scoring a 9.0, 8.7 and 7.0 respectively.

Smith, who first became interested in honeybees while beekeeping in high school, said, “I’ve been working with honeybees for 10 years, so being stung is just a part of the work. As a scientist, when there’s a question, I have to go through with it in order to get an answer.”

In addition, he added that he chose honeybees because they scored in the middle range of Schmidt’s Pain Index.

“I just fell in love with [the honeybees],” Smith said. “They’re a really cool superorganism. They’re all individuals, but they’re working as one.”

Through this study, Smith concluded that location is a reliable predictor of pain when it comes to stings.

When not working on his research, Smith said he is an active member of the Beekeeping Club and Cornell Garden Plots.