Friday, March 13th, 2009 | Author:

UPDATE 3/14/09 – The Greenwich Post newspaper reported in 2008 that McNitt’s honey testing “found no trace of another insecticide called Imidacloprid“… Jim McNitt commented on my first post, however, that Eliza just won again this year two top Life Science prizes at the 2009 Connecticut Science Fair for her continued research on pesticides in honey (read his blog). Most notably, he writes that she in fact did find imidacloprid in her testing. “This year, Eliza used HPLC to examine pollen, beeswax,Eliza McNitt 2009 Photo by Frank LaBanca beebread and dead bees gathered from the Arboretum hive for traces of imidacloprid… Her work confirmed the presence of high levels of imidacloprid both in the hive and on the extremities of the Arboretum honey bees.” So, what’s the story behind the story, here? Why did the newspaper report the contrary? Did last year’s research methods differ from this year’s? Was there a sudden spike in imidacloprid usage near the Arboretum study location in the past year? Stamford, CT is a place of wealth and immaculate lawns. It would be nice to see a survey of the gardeners and home owners about what products they put on the lawns. Do they use any of those recently banned in Canada? Would the local garden supply shops provide stats on sales of certain products for local research purposes? Mr. McNitt says’s he’ll send me the link to her research PDF for us to post here. I can’t wait. Thanks for keeping us posted. [his response and link is here : McNitt 2008 Research.pdf] (Photo by Frank LaBanca)

  • What are the possibilities of other high school students around the country sending samples to Greenwich High School Paperfor testing?
  • Could there be a continuing research program set up there?
  • What are the costs to the school for conducting the tests?
  • Is it complicated to test using High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) technology?

Looks to me like future students at Greenwich High could expand on McNitt’s research and follow in her award-winning footsteps. They have a great research location, ability to survey properties within a 4 mile radius of the hives and perhaps even discover and map the places where the bees are picking up imidacloprid, down to the product name. The next test in the Greenwich High School CCD Research Program should be of the water supply, an often overlooked source of contamination – bees drink water and use it to cool the hive! Science teacher Andy Bramante may need some TA’s, too. ;) – DNR

Jim McNitt Website Screenshot…..html


3/13/09 – Just yesterday I posted some 2008 news about this young woman, and today I see she’s more scientist researcher than film maker! If there’s any high school that would have its own advanced Spectroscopy and Chromatography technology, it would be Greenwich High School. Lucky girl. I’m waiting for Eliza to send me the link to her research (use comment)… Congratulations! You deserve a full ride to college. (Stick with the hard sciences ;) ) -DNR

Mar 12, 2008
Greenwich High student wins science competition

Eliza McNitt, a Greenwich High School junior, captured top honors at the 45th Connecticut Junior Science and Humanities Symposium for an original research project that traced the migration of pesticides through the production of southwestern Connecticut honey.

In addition to a $1,000 scholarship and letter of recognition from Gov. M. Jodi Rell, McNitt will represent Connecticut at the National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium at Orlando, FL, in May. The symposium program is sponsored by the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force in an effort to encourage original scientific research at the high school level. Courtney Fogwell, a GHS senior, was selected as a National Symposium alternate for her project analyzing the environmental impact of artificial-turf playing fields.

Eliza and Courtney were among 13 state finalists who made oral presentations before an audience of more than 300 fellow science students, parents, teachers, and jurors at the University of Connecticut in Storrs on March 10. Both students were mentored by GHS science teacher Andrew Bramante.

“While extensive work has been done on the presence of residual insecticides on fruits and vegetables, there has been little significant scientific research on residual pesticides in honey,” Mr. Bramante said in a release. “Eliza came to me with her project on the first day of class. I almost fell off my stool when I heard it.”

Eliza says that the topic was indirectly inspired by her grandfather, a chemical engineer, who is fastidious about washing and peeling fresh produce.

“If there are insecticides on an apple,” Eliza said. “It made me wonder if they could also be present in honey.”

She found an ideal controlled research environment at the Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford, Bartlett Arboretum Mapwhich maintains an apiary in the middle of its 30 acre property. James Kaechele, arboretum education director and beekeeping specialist Andrew Cote´ made honey samples available along with detailed records of pesticide applications.

Eliza tested the arboretum honey using advanced Spectroscopy and Chromatography technology that had been donated to the GHS science program.

“I was incredibly fortunate to able to perform my own analysis,” she says. “GHS has equipment that you can’t even find in most colleges.”

Her tests revealed the presence of a component of the pesticide Neem Oil — which is widely used in organic farming. Neem Oil is made from the fruits and seeds of Neem, an evergreen tree common in India, and is not thought to be harmful to mammals, birds or bees.

The fact that Eliza found no trace of another insecticide called Imidacloprid may have implications in the search for a cause of the mysterious syndrome known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in which worker bees abruptly disappear. CCD is considered a serious threat to the pollination of food crops in the United States and Europe.

“Imidacloprid is under investigation as a contributing factor in CCD,” she said. “The fact that it is not present in the Arboretum honey could suggest that it is killing or disorienting worker bees so they cannot return to the hive.”

The topic will be something she’ll tackle in her next GHS science project. [see McNitt's followup here]

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2 Responses

  1. 1

    in response to:


    The 2008 newspaper report is correct. In her pesticide research last year, Eliza found no traces of Imidacloprid in the honey samples.

    In essence, her intention was to explore whether or not Imidacloprid (and other pesticides) entered the human food chain via honey. She determined this is not happening. While researching pesticides in honey, however, she became interested in CCD.

    This year, with CCD in mind, she focused on the presence of Imidacloprid in the apiary. Here’s what she learned:

    No Imidacloprid traces in pollen, honey or bee bread samples collected from the Bartlett Arboretum hive.

    No Imidacloprid internally within the bees–although apparently she feels more testing is necessary before this finding should be considered conclusive.

    Substantial concentrations of Imidacloprid on the bee extremities–antennae, wings, legs — as well as in the bee’s wax.

    Here’s an automatic download link to a MS Word copy of Eliza’s 2008 Research

    Why doesn’t the Imidacloprid show up in the honey?

    Dave Mendes, a major commercial beekeeper and vice-president of the American Beekeepers Association, told us that he thinks this may because pesticide molecules bond poorly with carbohydrates, but very well with protein. I have no idea if there’s any scientific validity to this, but it’s the only plausible explanation I’ve heard.

    It should be stressed that the hive Eliza researched has not experienced CCD. But her work does prove that while collecting pollen, worker bees introduce Imidacloprid into the hive where, at the very least, it contaminates the bee’s wax cells in which surround developing larvae and very likely contaminates the other bees in the hive as well.

    The HPLC equipment at GHS, by the way, was donated by corporations after Eliza’s chemistry teacher made a compelling argument that it would be more rewarding to give their “obsolete” equipment to GHS that to sell it in the second-hand marketplace.

    Jim McNitt

  2. 2

    One year later
    A passion for science on film
    by Katie Thompson

    Published January 31, 2010

    Eliza McNitt is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and scientist — and no, she’s not a graduate student. McNitt is a Tisch freshman.

    McNitt arrived at NYU this fall with prizes from the Connecticut Science Fair and the International Science and Engineering Fair already under her belt. A double major in film and television and environmental studies, McNitt has established herself as an accomplished filmmaker with her eclectic interests and natural storytelling ability.

    “There are so many ways to approach storytelling at NYU,” said Joanne Savio, Tisch professor of film and television who taught McNitt’s frame and sequence class.

    Her unique ability to use the art of filmmaking to communicate science is what makes McNitt stand out. “Requiem for the Honeybee,” her documentary about the worldwide plight of the insect due to colony collapse disorder, won the 2009 C-SPAN StudentCam Documentary Filmmaking Contest.

    “I wanted to tell the story [of the honeybees] as if it were a monologue; to take the science off my science fair poster and put it in people’s imaginations,” McNitt said.

    The inspiration for the documentary came from her grandfather, who once told her not to eat an apple before washing it because of the dangers of pesticides.

    “This incident awakened me to the use of pesticides through agriculture, and honeybees are the primary pollinator [of crops],” said McNitt.

    In an independent research program through her high school, McNitt traced the migration of pesticides through the production of honey. She traced the pesticide “imidacloprid” through the pollination pathway and found its presence in the hive and on the extremities of the bees. Through this, McNitt was able to point out that the pesticide is possibly a contributing factor to colony collapse disorder — the name given to the disappearance of adult honeybees in large numbers from their hives, a worldwide agricultural phenomenon.

    Savio said she saw great potential in McNitt’s ability to inform the community of NYU.

    “A true advocate for our environment, [Eliza's] stories often have the potential to have levels of understanding beyond the beautiful visuals she creates,” she said.

    Although McNitt began her film career through acting at four years old, science didn’t appeal to her until her final years of high school.

    “It wasn’t a passion that I cultivated until the very end of my senior year,” McNitt said. “I wasn’t going to study science at all until I won the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair and I realized that this is something I should stick with.”

    Her win at the ISEF sent her all the way to Geneva, Switzerland. The cultural and scientific center presented McNitt with yet another opportunity to utilize science to tell a powerful story.

    “I was there for five days, and I wanted to film a documentary about my experience,” McNitt said. “What I found as I was interviewing all of the students with me is that each had a strong cultural belief that they brought along with them. This film explores the journey we go on learning about science by colliding [the student's] values and cultural beliefs with the science that they encountered.”

    McNitt was intrigued by the way her companions seamlessly integrated science and religion in their personal beliefs. One example of a boy who was a creationist particularly stuck out in McNitt’s memory.

    “It was amazing that he was able to accept the science saying that Earth is 15.7 billion years old, but still keep his creationist belief that the earth is 4,000 years old as truth,” McNitt said.

    The example of the creationist is a parallel to McNitt’s own life. But as McNitt’s films prove, science and art do not necessarily negate each other. In fact, beautiful things can happen when the two merge.

    “As Leonardo DaVinci said, ‘Study the art of science, and the science of art’ — that’s my manifesto,” McNitt said.

    Katie Thompson is features editor.

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