Experts at the University of Stirling are dedicated to exploring the world’s environment to investigate and provide solutions to the risks posed to life on our planet. PhD researcher Kat Raines has spent the last three years investigating how damaging radiation is to bumblebees in Chernobyl – her findings have captured the attention of international policymakers, academics and media.
Kat Raines graduated from Stirling with a BSc (Hons) Conservation Biology in 2012, before spending three years working in bird and turtle conservation and conducting invasive species research in the Seychelles. She departed the tropical paradise in 2015 after being tempted back to Stirling by the lure of a PhD – and within six weeks was conducting research alongside fellow academics in Chernobyl. “We had no idea what it was going to be like,” Raines said. “When you think of Chernobyl, you picture a desolate nuclear wasteland. But when we arrived we found beautiful meadows of flowers and, fortunately, lots of bees. I chose to focus on bees as they provide invaluable ecosystem services and have complex interactions with many aspects of the environment.”
Stirling has given me a solid foundation and offered good opportunities, and I would definitely recommend it to anybody considering a PhD.
Kat Raines, PhD Student
It was the first of three field trips Kat took to the city, in central Ukraine. Back in Stirling, and under the supervision of Professor David Copplestone and Dr Matthew Tinsley, she studied bee colonies under controlled laboratory experiments in an on-campus radiation facility and, through her work, made a significant discovery. “I set out to investigate whether colonies changed after being exposed to the levels of radiation seen in Chernobyl – and found that reproduction decreased following such exposure,” she said. Raines’ study focuses on three key areas – reproduction, wing wear and parasites – and forms part of the larger Transfer, Exposure, Effects project, which aims to reduce uncertainty in estimating the risk to humans and wildlife from radioactivity.
Kat has received excellent feedback from peers at events in Westminster and Berlin ahead of her papers being published, while major media outlets have noted interest in covering the study. “It is really exciting,” she added. Kat has taken the opportunity to develop her teaching experience at Stirling, delivering lectures and tutorials to undergraduate students across a range of subjects, including ecology, evolution and field skills. She also holds the position of Graduate School Officer for the Faculty of Natural Sciences. In recognition of the expertise she has in her field, Raines recently secured a three-month internship with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. She said: “It is great to see people excited about my research. I have really enjoyed my time at Stirling and love my department, which I have found to be a supportive and friendly environment."