This past weekend we ran our first workshop making lanterns at the STEAM Fest Family Fun day, put on by the CU Museum of Natural History. The families, a parent and a child, worked to construct a wire and paper lantern (pyramid or cube structures), decorate it, and program LEDs to illuminate the lantern.
During the two 1.5 hr sessions we had ~15 pairs participate. The children were ages 6-13. It was wonderful to see the parent and child work together to design and construct their own unique physical lanterns. Most families created some kind of story with their painting on the outside. One girl painted her and her grandma on the top showing that they were the two making this lantern. Another child took a story she had written about the adventures of four superhero dogs during a different STEAM session earlier in the day, with Myra Makes, and painted images from that onto her lantern.
For nearly all of the participants, the children especially, this was their first experience with programming. Given that we had a very limited time we introduced the micro:bit and some basic blocks for programing the lights. It was fun to see what different LED light patterns the families wanted to try out to illuminate their lantern, such as a rotating rainbow or flashing red lights.
Overall, it was a great workshop and all families took home an individualized lantern. In future workshops we hope to have more work time with the families so we can include data collection and visualization with sensors, thinking about how devices can communicate, and how information from the natural sciences can be investigated with these lantern forms.
The lantern is complete and runs with data!
This was no small task getting the final parts of the lantern functioning properly. The last steps were to collect the data from the garden, query it, and then program the lights to respond to the data. Ben wrote a wonderful database so that now we can collect data from the garden, store it, and query it! Once that was complete we needed to hook up the lights. However, in order to run the database querying we could only light 216 lights, but the tree has 229 nights! Therefore, we had to learn how to use a Arduino mini to run the lights as a "backpack" from the Arduino uno. This was quite complicated, but with help from ajfisher (at about 1am!) we were able to get the mini programmed and the uno directing traffic to the mini. Here is what that looked like!
Finally, the lights were ready to go and could connect to the data. However, the task of deciding how to map the data to the lights and then program that was no small task. I decided to draw on what high school and middle school students would learn about plants. So after reading standards, textbooks, and thinking back to my own studies, I decided to focus on the processes occurring in plants, such as photosynthesis and transpiration. Here is what the final tree looked like from the front and back!
The lights you see moving in this data show real time data! I took the moisture, temperature, and humidity values and determined how "fast" and how much transpiration, visualized with teal light, would move up the tree (can be seen below). So if no water is present and the plants dry out then no movement happens with those lights, and the overall blue on the base fades to red.
As for the photosynthesis it occurs on the "leaves" (of course!) which I imagine are like the little nubs on the branches. So you can see when the light level sensor detects enough light then photosynthesis can occur. Temperature and moisture also play a role in this to affect speed. So if you watch one of the nubs in the next video you can see it turn from white to yellow and then fade to red before being "transported" into the tree's branch. This is like the sugars being made and processed from glucose to sucrose and then be transported around the tree to other parts that are not able to do photosynthesis.
And finally the overall health of the plan can be determined by looking at the face of the "garden spirit". As moisture drops and stays dropped the blue drains out of the face leaving it more red. However, if the plant is also unable to do photosynthesis for a while (no lights is being detected in the garden and/or temperature is too low) then the red also fades out of the face. Therefore, if the plant has little water and little light then the face lights go very dim, showing an unhealthy situation; however if the plant is healthy we should see a nice purple glow! Here are some final pictures of the lantern with data!
What a wonderful project this has been! Thank you to everyone who has helped with this project!!! Sad to see it be almost finished up, but excited to get into classrooms and working with students to design their own garden lanterns!
After a few late nights of working the papering and painting of the lantern is complete! Here are the time lapses of painting and papering. The paper process just uses simple copier paper with white glue.
And here is the painting process. The painting was the most terrifying part of this whole thing! The black paint (india ink) seemed very final and the paraffin wax is a bit hard to work with as it likes to run and drip a ton. However, I really enjoyed how the project grew and changed with the ink and the wax.
I also had a ton of advice and help when painting the tree. If you watch carefully during the painting of the tree you can see me take several photos and then make a phone call or hop on a Skype call. Through this process my mom and sister were extremely helpful. My sister, Myra Rasmussen, who was the one who worked in Japan on a nebuta lantern with artist Chiba Sakuryu helped to to decide if I had enough black on at various points throughout the process. And my mom was very helpful in deciding how the face should be painted. This is a funny part of the video where you can see after almost every part that I paint on the face I make a phone call - that is to my mother, Coco Forte (thanks mom!!)!
Here are some still photos of the painting process.
In an effort to practice some smaller lantern making, make some that are more portable, and practice the nebuta painting techniques I made three small lanterns for a Denver art show at the Cabal Gallery, Meet Me at the Corner of Art & Science. I started on Monday at about 5pm and worked through several late nights to get them done by 5pm on Friday for the show.
I tested out some new lights, which were already pre-wired so that made one step much faster and I also experimented with a few different microcontrollers from the Micro:bit to Raspberry Pi's. I was hoping to make them battery powered but ran into issues with either the Pi's or the lights needing too much power or the Micro:bit not being able to run the lights and use bluetooth at the same time. I ended up settling for using power cords and Raspberry Pi's but will keep trying out the Micro:bit for different projects as it uses so much less power.
Traditionally nebuta lantern making is started with black outlines, followed by wax (to allow more light through those parts) to create highlights, and finally colored paint is added to the lanterns. Here are some photos of my sister, Myra Rasmussen, working on a float for the nebuta lantern in Amori, Japan. You can see some of this process in these photos, which are courtesy of my sister (she is in the third image).
I found this process hard to begin from the white lanterns, adding the stark black india ink very frightening, but this was great practice for starting to paint the the big tree lantern. The wax also was a bit more challenging then I anticipated, as it ran and dripped in ways I did not expect. However, once the color was on and the lights turned on I found the small drips and things were hardly visible. Additionally, being my first time painting these, I used pretty heavy coloring, which made the use of the colored lights inside less visible. I'll have to consider this when painting the large lantern.
On that note, I plan (hope?) to have the big lantern completed by the ATLAS Expo this upcoming Wednesday! I was really nervous about painting the tree lantern, so making these small lanterns helped to prepare and calm me (a bit!). I actually have started the painting process; pictures and time lapse coming soon!
After about 20 hours of papering the lantern is fully papered! Here is a little 360 video to see the whole lantern. Colors of lights are still random at this point, but soon each light will be mapped to data incoming from the garden!
After the first day of papering I captured a time lapse of this process, which is being put together right now. In the meantime here are some static images from the process. The next step will be to paint and wax the whole sculpture!
In my last post about the lantern I was working on getting enough voltage to all my lights by running parallel power lines. After having a failed attempt at this using only thin ribbon wire for extra power lines (not ground), Jiffer recommended using thicker speaker wire and running parallel power and ground lines. This was the key! You can see the progression from last week's dimming issue (white turns to yellow), to this week's full white lights!
It took 14 parallel power lines to achieve this wonderful white light. This was a mess to say the least! So to make this a bit more organized I soldered the power lines to a perfboard, leaving only the signal lines (and one ground) to be connected directly to the Arduino Uno and getting rid of the mess of alligator clips.
Since the lights were up and running I could start testing out the paper on different areas of the lights (such as the bumps on the tree extremities) to make sure it was bright enough and to try out some paint and wax combinations. I still deciding between black and white paint/wax or adding in color, especially when planning to use the full RGB spectrum of lights.
And of course after some test runs I finally started papering the lantern! Here is the progression from today! Hopefully next time I will be able to get a time lapse of the papering process.
Though some plants are doing better then others we can now watch this in action (almost)! Here is a time lapse of the last month of one level of the garden with images taken every hour. The flashing occurs as the lights on a timer go on/off throughout the day/night.
Problem solving and repetition - those were the themes these last couple of weeks.
We have been making great progress on the lantern! The wire structure is finally complete, with leaves, branches, and detail texture (bumps), Additionally, before adding more lights, we tried to drive the lights using data directly from the garden! In the first picture above, the brightness of the lights were relative to the light amount in the garden and the amount of green lights on came from the moisture level.
My mother was also in town this last week (picture 2-3) and luckily she wanted to help solder tons of lights! We already had 90 lights in the lantern when we began and by the end there were ~230 lights. So my mom was busy! We even set up two soldering stations at home so we could work there! All the work paid off today as we were able to get all parts of the lantern contain lights.
However, the lights presented a few challenges. Due to the large number of lights, when I first soldered them all together (~150 lights) we started to see dimming of the lights in the last third or so of the strand. After running some tests we decided this was a power issue and that making the strands shorter and driving multiple strands would be useful. However the Raspberry Pi could only drive one strand of lights (only one PWM pin) and so Jiffer (postdoc in our lab) helped me set up an Arduino Uno to control multiple strands. However after setting this up we realized there was still a power issue due to what seems to be resistance in the thin wire used to connect all of the LEDs (rainbow wire was used). We found this because when setting the strand to show all white LEDs, 3/4 of the strand end up being pink or red (final picture shown).
Therefore, the next step will be to connect parallel power to different points in the strand to help fix this issue. Once the lights are complete and giving a whole range of colors then I can begin papering the lantern and moving it to it's new home, which is the lobby of the ATLAS (our) building.
Plants are still growing strong! The little plants (lettuce, tomatoes, and mint) are getting ready to be moved to the third level of the garden as they are not so little any more. However, we are working out some kinks in the gardening process. We had two leaking episodes in the last few weeks. The first time we could not find a source and the second time (just on Tuesday) we at least narrowed it to the large water storage container on the left. Both seem to have occurred when the container got refilled, so perhaps it is just overflowing after being refilled. We will keep working to identify if this is indeed the issue.
We are now beginning to collect data regularly from the garden in a few different formats. Every hour we take a picture of the garden using a webcam. Currently we are imaging the second level (picture 2 above), but because the first level plants are younger we may move the camera there to get a time lapse of the growth. We are also collecting temperature, humidity, soil moisture, water presence in the tub and light data. These data are collected using sensors in level two using Willow (the BlockyTalky). Willow sends an OSC message to a machine in which we are storing all the data in a csv file so that we can have a the historical data for the garden. We are working out the bugs to get Willow to constantly send data to be stored for access later. Finally, we are also collecting hand measurements; height, width, leaf number, and general health by looking. We began by measuring the plants 4x a week but decided that was too often so have decided on 1x per week.
Overall, though the last few weeks have presented it's fair share of challenges, we are starting to see the benefits of all our hard work! It has been really fun to see the garden progressing and now it is very exciting to see the lantern all lit up. I'll try to add a video of the lights in the next blog post and maybe a time lapse of the garden!
Lantern making finally started! The Creative++ jam was a great opportunity to get some long hours of work done on this large scale lantern - and it took a whole team of us to make as much progress as we did over just two days! Following instructions from a master lantern maker (my sister) I built a wooden frame to support the wire structure first due to the large size (~9ft tall). Once the wooden frame was constructed, the outline of the tree was shaped using 12 gauge wire and tacked, using circles of the wire, to the wooden frame. Then the details began; these were added using 14 gauge wire that is more flexible for intricate details like the face. All the wire is attached using string and glue. Once the base of the lantern was formed we were ready to add the lights inside!
Work on the lights began before the creative tech jam. Ben and Kayla DesPortes (visiting PhD student from Georgia Tech) worked to find a way for the individually programmable LED strip to communicate with BlockyTalky. Then we connected that to the data from the garden with a basic program that controlled how far the green lights went based on moisture levels and the brightness controlled by light levels. After figuring out the communication, it was then time to cut apart all the LEDs on the strip and solder them back together so they could be spread apart inside the lantern. However, this was quite a daunting task that required many helping hands! By the end of Creative++ we were able to attach the whole string of newly soldered lights to the lantern (video to come!).
A lot has changed over the last few months with the garden.
After building a large wooden structure to hold three levels of hydroponics, we started a single layer to test out water flow in our ebb-and-flow system. We started with coleus, basil, thyme, lavender, and marigolds (picture 1).
After a few weeks the plants were huge (picture 2)!
This last week we had to remove the coleus from the hydroponic system and transplant them to new pots as they were taking over all the space of the other plants (picture 3). The basil had also grown a ton and we harvested about 3-4 cups. We made some wonderful caprese with the basil - yum!
We then planted some more plants which have since sprouted (picture 4).
These are tomatoes, lettuce, and mint (which just sprouted today).
We also set up a second level of the hydroponic garden (picture 5) which has seedlings from our second round of plantings that include more basil, thyme, and lavender.
Finally, we have also added a few more sensors to the garden; now we are measuring temperature, humidity, light, water presence, and soil moisture using a BlockyTalky named Willow (picture 6).