LANL’s Dr. Wingo Introduces Rotarians to the Power of Domestic Honeybees

Dr. Bob Wingo discusses the power of bees as Rotary President Linda Hull and her husband Robert Hull of Los Alamos Technical Associates (LATA) listen at right. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

Staff Report

The incredible power of bees as a detection tool was literally the buzz among many Rotarians assembled for a lunchtime presentation Tuesday at the Dixie Girl Restaurant in downtown Los Alamos.

Dr. Robert M. Wingo, the Environmental Science and Engineering Team Leader for the Chemical Diagnostics and Engineering Group at Los Alamos National Laboratory delivered the talk.

Domestic honeybees, Apis mellifera, have olfactory senses capable of detecting specific volatile organic compounds (VOC) in air at levels as low as parts per billion (ppb.), he said.

This ability can be harnessed as a biological sensor to detect VOC’s of particular interest, as has traditionally been done with specially-trained dogs.

Wingo explained that the honeybee can be trained to respond to a particular scent within hours, is inexpensive to reproduce and maintain, and may be harnessed to operate autonomously.

LANL researchers began working with bees in 2006 to detect explosive materials and narcotics. The honeybees, harnessed in a cassette, are trained to extend their proboscis in the presence of the VOC of interest; this physical response is then detected by electronics monitoring the “bee cassette,” and the operator is alerted to presence of the material.

Wingo received his PhD. in Analytical and Environmental Chemistry with minors in Environmental Engineering and Environmental Management, from New Mexico State University.

His research currently focuses on environmental chemistry supporting operations at LANL, carbon neutral concrete formulations, waste water treatment plant operations, and High Gradient Magnetic Separations. 

As a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at LANL, Wingo helped develop a portable, vapor-phase explosives detection system for DARPA and stand-off environmental analysis under the auspices of the National MASINT Management Office. 

He has experience designing, assembling and operating pilot-scale water treatment systems for acid mine drainage, activated sludge sewage treatment, and radioactive liquids. Wingo also has numerous publications and four patents.


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