University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy

Physics and Astronomy Calendar

Friday, October 21st 2016
Speaker: “The Dancing Bees: Karl von Frisch and the Discovery of the Honeybee Language”
Subject: Tania Munz, Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering, & Technology
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

In 1973, the Austrian-born experimental physiologist, Karl von Frisch, received a share of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of the honeybee dance language. Von Frisch argued that bees communicate the distance and direction of food sources via their dance-like movements. Language had long been considered the exclusive domain of humans, and the discovery of symbolic communication in insects was considered a sensation and made von Frisch one of the best-known scientists of the post-war period. Less well known today is that von Frisch performed much of this work during WWII with funding from the Nazi Ministry of Food and Agriculture – this after the German government had declared him one-quarter Jewish and threatened to oust him from his position in Munich. Then, as now, the bees were dying and food had become critically important to the German war effort. This talk – based on Munz’s recent book by the same title – explores the relationship between science and politics during WWII and how the bees transitioned over the course of the 20th century from model political animals to premier communicators at the hands of von Frisch.

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