Duncan's blog

Preventing Forest Fires With Tree Power: Sensor System Runs On Electricity Generated By Trees

MIT senior Christopher Love by Christopher Huang/MIT

MIT researchers and colleagues are working to find out whether energy from trees can power a network of sensors to prevent spreading forest fires.

What they learn also could raise the possibility of using trees as silent sentinels along the nation's borders to detect potential threats such as smuggled radioactive materials.

The U.S. Forest Service currently predicts and tracks fires with a variety of tools, including remote automated weather stations. But these stations are expensive and sparsely distributed. Additional sensors could save trees by providing better local climate data to be used in fire prediction models and earlier alerts. However, manually recharging or replacing batteries at often very hard-to-reach locations makes this impractical and costly.

The new sensor system seeks to avoid this problem by tapping into trees as a self-sustaining power supply. Each sensor is equipped with an off-the-shelf battery that can be slowly recharged using electricity generated by the tree. A single tree doesn't generate a lot of power, but over time the "trickle charge" adds up, "just like a dripping faucet can fill a bucket over time," said Shuguang Zhang, one of the researchers on the project and the associate director of MIT's Center for Biomedical Engineering (CBE).

The system produces enough electricity to allow the temperature and humidity sensors to wirelessly transmit signals four times a day, or immediately if there's a fire. Each signal hops from one sensor to another, until it reaches an existing weather station that beams the data by satellite to a forestry command center in Boise, Idaho.

Scientists have long known that trees can produce extremely small amounts of electricity. But no one knew exactly how the energy was produced or how to take advantage of the power.

(Via ScienceDaily)

Top 10 Amazing Physics Videos

Top 10 Amazing Physics Videos

Tesla coils, superconductors, and hilarious music videos are great reasons to be excited about physics. Here are a couple of our favorites.

5. Sound Waves on Fire
Reuben's tube is a classic way to demonstrate the concept of a standing wave. Pump some flammable gas into one side of a tube, and attach a speaker to the other side, and watch what happens to the columns of flames that issue from small holes along the top.

7. Helium Superfluid
At extremely low temperatures, some liquids stop playing by their usual rules.

See the full article here.

(Via Wired: Wired Science)

David Last - The Secret Life of Plants



In the summer of 2007 I joined some friends at a special location on the shoreline of Rhode Island. This location is the home of Duncan Laurie, a friend who is a sculptor and researcher of the connection between science and sound.

Upstairs on this property there is a laboratory with a wide array of unusual electrical research equipment, and a full sound system with subs. What happens at this place is research into the nature of biofeedback and sound. While we were there, Duncan had connected electrical sensors to the surface of plants; a venus flytrap, a potted houseplant, and what looked like a soggy variety of moss. The sensors are the kind of electrical sensor you might put on the surface of your own skin to measure slight fluctuations in your natural electric field. I believe they are the same thing you might see in movies attached to the foreheads of people undergoing lie-detector (polygraph) tests. They are also used generally to give bio-feedback in relaxation experiments.

One night Justin Boreta (who was also there at the time) did some technical work to connect these electrical sensors to MIDI signals which were sent into music software, by way of a sensor data translation program called 'IBVA'. Justin did some amazing work that night, translating the electrical signals from these living plants directly into abstract sound. The sound sources were, I believe, both software and hardware synthesizers, and a digital harmonization processor. The sounds produced directly by the plants' natural electrical fields were complex, and sounded like some kind of alien form of consciousness (which in a way, they kind of were). When rounded off into notes instead of free-flowing tones, the melodies produced were eerie and (as might be expected) quite organic. The following day Justin had to leave, but together we had installed IBVA on my laptop. That day I created a stereo audio mix of the elements Justin had created.

Though Justin had gone, the IBVA system was still there, and I had worked briefly with Justin to get it working on my computer, so I did one experiment of my own. It was less ambitious than Mr. Boreta's experiment, because it dealt with the data from only one sensor, and dealt with a single audio instrument. This experiment is what I would like to share with Modyfier.


I set up my laptop with the IBVA feeding data into my music software, which was running a granular sampler patch. On my laptop, I was able to play recordings of music I had been creating, and step through microscopically short segments of this music. The position of playback of these tiny sound 'grains' was determined by the electrical data coming in from the plant itself. In other words, the electrical charges on the surface of the plant helped to select what part of what musical sound file on my hard drive would be played. In this way, the piece is a collaboration between myself and a single houseplant.

The goal of the experiment was to find out if it is possible to allow a plant to unconsciously structure a piece of music (or at the very least, to use the biological flux of electrical signals from a house plant in order to determine a musical structure, in collaboration with a human (me)).

The collaboration was multi-layered. I had been preparing sketches of orchestral music for my own projects, and there were a large number of sound files on my hard drive; these were used as 'building blocks' for the musical collage. Some of the sound files contained full pieces of music I had composed; some contained only orchestra instruments playing melodies or chords, some contained crazy sound design, recordings of bells from a carnival, or choir voices singing dissonant tones. Almost all of these sounds were acoustic in origin. All of these sound files were made available to the Reaktor patch I was using in order to create a new piece of music out of many fragments. As the piece progressed, I could change which sound files were being accessed, and the plant's energy readings could change what part of the sound file was being played, and how much of the sound file would be heard. Whether this constituted conscious collaboration is, to my mind, irrelevant.

So, not only was there collaboration in terms of how the files were being played back (my interpretation of how the plant's 'alien intelligence' electrical signals could be used to generate music), there was also a collaboration in terms of my offering of the original audio source material for 'mulching.' Certainly, in order to get musical results, I heavily impressed my own sonic personality on the experiment; however, the plant's feedback did in fact help to create a composition I never would have created myself.

The recording is totally un-edited, recorded straight to disk. The 16 minutes of running time are exactly as they sounded coming from Reaktor, live in the room! There are several 'movements,' and the whole thing strikes me as very similar in its overall feeling to modern classical music.

The whole thing was made exactly 1 year ago. I hope you enjoy it!

download: david last - process part 088 (music for house plants in rhode island)

(Via modyfier)

The Geoglyphs of Teohuanaco

Using earth orbiting satellites, acclaimed researcher David Flynn has studied the high plateau of Bolivia and found previously undiscovered unnatural patterns stretching outward from Lake Titicaca for hundreds of square miles. The geoglyphic works range from arrow straight parallel lines, enormous over lapping perfect circles and rectangles to 'labyrinth like' systems of walls and mounds extending over every feature of the terrain.

One hundred and twenty miles south of the lake, spirals, linear arrays and crisscrossing paths are scored into the earth covering an entire desert. Closer to the lake, branching walls and rectangular cells can be seen running vertically down hills. Many of these walls extend for hundreds of feet or more and maintain an average width of 15 feet. The estimated combined mass of the geoglyphic formations surrounding Lake Titicaca is staggering, exceeding many of the greatest known constructions of the ancient world.

Many researchers believe that the ruins of Tiahuanaco, situated only 12 miles south of Lake Titicaca and near the center of the geoglyphic landscape, is the oldest city ever discovered on earth. Consistent with these theories, the Inca living in the region during the Spanish conquest explained that Tiahuanaco had existed for thousands of years before their civilization began.

According to Inca legend, Lake Titicaca was revered as the location where the god Viracocha created a race of giants and later, the first humans. The Inca maintained that the giants built Tiahuanaco and also many other cities and structures in the area. However, due to their great evil, Viracocha destroyed the giants in a world flood. This legend is still believed by the local Indian inhabitants to this day.

(Via Raiders News Network.)

Earth's Cries Recorded in Space

Earth's Cries Recorded in Space: "Earth emits an ear-piercing series of chirps and whistles."

(Via SPACE.com.)