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Queen Mary professor elected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has elected Queen Mary’s Professor Lars Chittka as a fellow.

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Credit: Markus Scholz / Leopoldina
Credit: Markus Scholz / Leopoldina

Professor Chittka was honoured on account of his contribution to the advancement of science, specifically his extensive and impactful research into how bees sense the world, what they do with that information, and how they do it.

More than 500 scientists, engineers and innovators spanning 24 scientific disciplines were elected as fellows for their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts advancing science. The honourees were carefully chosen by the Council to preserve the honour attached to this recognition.

Professor Chittka has established a reputation as one of the world’s leading bee experts. His working group and its research have made numerous widely covered discoveries that have offered new insights and perspectives into insect conservation, countering any idea that insects are only capable of the most basic of thought. The research has also had a significant impact on how we understand the neural functions and capabilities of animals and raised interesting questions about whether the findings may extend to the human brain.

Research led last year by Professor Chittka uncovered that bumblebees appear to be able to feel pain, thereby setting out an argument that bees may have a form of consciousness. In a separate study, Professor Chittka and his team showcased bees’ extraordinary intelligence by teaching them to play football. His research also showed that they can memorise human faces and learn to count. And an additional study revealed a specific type of gut bacteria in bees that can improve memory. The hope is that follow-up research may be able to discern whether bacteria species have the same effect in humans. Chittka’s best-selling book The Mind of a Bee was released last year by Princeton University Press.

Professor Lars Chittka, Professor of Sensory and Behavioural Ecology at Queen Mary University of London, said: “It is a great honour to receive this recognition. I would like to thank the AAAS’ Council, as well as my fellow researchers who I have worked with. Without them this would not be possible.

“I have always been passionate about unpacking animal cognition and its evolution, and showing the world that insects are much more than meets the eye. We all know what an important role they play in nature, but they are also wonderfully complex creatures and reveal so much about sensory systems that extend to both human beings and other animals.”

Sudip S. Parikh, Ph.D., AAAS chief executive officer and executive publisher of the Science family of journals, said: “AAAS is proud to elevate these standout individuals and recognize the many ways in which they’ve advanced scientific excellence, tackled complex societal challenges and pushed boundaries that will reap benefits for years to come."

About Lars Chittka 

Professor Chittka is the founder of the Research Centre for Psychology at Queen Mary University of London. He has been an Editor of Biology’s leading open access journal PLoS Biology since 2004 and has also been on the Editorial Board of the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B, and the Quarterly Review of Biology. He is also a recipient of the Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award, and an elected Fellow of the German National Academy of Sciences (Leopoldina), the Linnean Society, the Royal Entomological Society, as well as the Royal Society of Biology.  

Outside academia, he has been involved in several collaborative works linking the science of bees with music and art. With musicians Katie Green and Rob Alexander, he formed the band Killer Bee Queens. In 2019, they released a post-punk inspired concept album Strange Flowers on Bandcamp.

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