Brag time. We just got home from the big Calgary science fair competition. My 13-year-old won three awards. Here’s the kicker: his project was called Saving Honey with Sound. His experiment was based on sending ultrasonic energy waves into combs of granulated honey, attempting to liquefy the honey without using heat and without melting the wax comb.
His awards included a gold metal for creating a great original experiment, an award from a home economics group, plus the Consumers Economics Prize from the Haskayne School of Business. Also, the University of Calgary presented him the Hunter Centre Secondary (ie., high school) Consumer Science Award. Being recognized meant competing with 902 other students, all of them there by invitation because they had placed well at their local school events. Across Canada, over half a million kids participated in this year’s science fairs. That’s the same number that participated in hockey this year. So it’s a big deal.
My son wanted to help beekeepers who face trouble when honey begins to crystallize in the comb. For experts, he talked to some Alberta beekeepers and he interviewed a major honey packer. For background, he studied physics books. For coaching, he relied on his mom, who is a physician, not a keeper of bees, and who is a skilled public speaker. I stayed entirely out of his project. This was our son’s experiment – he spent about 60 hours in the basement working on it and we are happy that he put such effort into the science. For example, he learned that it’s largely the glucose/fructose ratio in honey that causes granulation. This varies flower-to-flower, which is why some honeys crystallize more quickly than others. He explored heat-induced honey damage and investigated cheap ways to generate high frequency sound waves. He also learned about resonant frequencies and how they can cause molecular vibration which in turn can phase-change solids to liquids.
Here is what I learned from him. The idea of using ultrasound to reverse granulation works, at least as part of a small-scale experiment. It may even have commercial application, but my son is not totally convinced. He used speakers which emitted 18,000 hertz sound waves at just over 100 decibels. (By the way, at such a high frequency, the sound is inaudible to humans. There is no risk of hearing damage – we asked an auditory physician before we allowed the boy to start.) After seven days, there was some liquefying. He told me that if he had bigger speakers and if he had an amplifier that could generate a higher frequency, the results would have been more spectacular. That’s what he thinks would be required in a honey operation if a beekeeper wants to extract any combs which are crystallized.
You can see the benefits. If the idea actually can scale up, hot rooms might be replaced with sound rooms. Honey sold in the comb could be restored. The science fair judges recognized this, hence the economics award for an experiment that combined the physics of sound and the chemistry of honey.
A great achievement, Miksha. You are rightly proud of him and its so nice to see children taking a practical interest in science. We certainly need some sort of invention because we have loads of oilseed rape (canola) coming into flower which has a high glucose content and sets rock-hard in the comb if you don’t get it off immediately.
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Thanks, the kid did well. His motivation was exactly what you mentioned – canola. We have millions of acres of it here in western Canada and when it granulates, the honey is stuck in the comb. It is so rock-hard that even bees are reluctant to chew into it. And it will never be extracted out. It looks like you know all this!
What a great project! You must be so proud of him, he worked hard on this. This is a reflection of you and your wife’s parenting. Good job to you both
Thanks! He really worked hard and presented well to the judges!
Wow. What first gave him the idea of using ultrasound?
The young scientist saw Canadian beekeepers having big problems with canola honey granulating in the comb. I told him that if the honey is heated, it becomes liquid again, but the wax comb also melts, ruining it. I told him to see if he could find another way to liquefy the honey. He loves science and physics so he started researching the idea. He found that there is a company in Germany that puts vibrating pins in vats of liquid honey (and some other food products) to keep it flowing. But this is direct contact – the device is submersed in the already liquid honey. The pins vibrate at an ultrasonic frequency. So he decided to test ultrasound on granulated honey in wax combs. There are three things that make this different from the German process – no direct contact, honey is already granulated, and wax combs are involved. But ultrasound is a borrowed idea.
His results were only marginally successful. He had some liquefied honey, close to the speakers where the sound was most intense and direct. He thinks it would work better with higher frequency and more amplitude. He is not sure that the whole thing can be economically scaled up to a commercial honey farm level – it would take a few thousand dollars to test that. But it might. – Ron
What about doing it like Dr.’s do when breaking up kidney stones while still present in a human body? Could the honey be submersed in a flexible “container” and then submerged in liquid (water) like breaking up the above stones?
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Thanks! It’s probably a similar idea. He was trying to vibrate the crystals apart without heating the honey and melting the wax.
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