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UWS professor, retired staff member develop beekeeping device

A University of Wisconsin-Superior professor has co-developed a device to help combat the seasonal loss of beehives. Submitted photo

One of the greatest challenges faced by beekeepers, particularly in polar climates, is the seasonal loss of beehives. On average, beekeepers in the United States lose about 30 percent of their hives during the winter, with areas in the Upper Midwest losing as much as 50 percent. These losses translate into significant ecological and financial costs.

Edward Burkett, University of Wisconsin-Superior biology professor, experienced this issue acutely in 2016 when all the hives in the UW-Superior bee apiary were lost during the winter months. He had just established the apiary on campus that year as part of the university's Urban Honey Bee Project — an education, research and community service initiative designed to engage undergraduate students in research with honey bees.

"Doc Bee," as he is known by his students, came up with an idea to build a Beehive Wind Shield, a device he believed would help solve the problem, and mentioned it one day to his friend and colleague, Kenn Raihala, a retired mechanical engineer at UWS.

"I told Kenn about my idea and he said, 'I can build that.' I originally thought he'd just build a few devices and I'd put them on my own hives and those in the UWS apiary, and that would be it," Burkett said. "But, Kenn is an inventor, so he did a patent search and couldn't find anything close to what we had created."

The Beehive Wind Shield is an innovative solution to a complex problem that arises in cold climates. Bees beat their wings inside the hive to keep it about 88 degrees, the temperature needed to survive. However, the heat and water vapor created by the bees causes condensation to form on the top of the hive in cold temperatures, which drips down on the bees and kills them.

"So, beekeepers have a dilemma," Burkett said. "They need the ventilation to keep the condensation down, but the air can also chill the bees and kill them. The Beehive Wind Shield is designed to protect the hive from wind infiltration while still promoting ventilation."

The Beehive Wind Shield is classified as patent pending in the U.S. It is the first technology from UW-Superior for which WiSys has pursued patent protection.

The invention could provide a powerful educational and entrepreneurial opportunity for UW System students, as well. WiSys has partnered with the UW-Oshkosh Alta Resources Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to provide motivated and entrepreneurial-minded students with the opportunity to start a business around patent-pending intellectual property from the WiSys portfolio. The Beehive Wind Shield is one of an original list of five technologies currently being assessed by a student team for business plan development.