The luminous science project is an interdisciplinary exploration of learning about the biochemistry of a garden through art-making. Specifically we grow plants using hydroponic gardening techniques, collect and analyze data using sensors, video, images, and hands-on measurements, and then translate that data into artistic representations that tell us about the biology, chemistry, and health of the garden.
In the first prototype of the project we built a large wooden support structure to hold three levels of hydroponic gardens. We use an ebb-and-flow system on all three levels. We have grown an assortment of different plants: basil, coleus, lavender, marigolds, tomatoes, lettuce, and thyme. The plants grew so well that the coleus, and later the tomatoes, had to be removed and replanted elsewhere. We have had a very fruitful crop of basil that we continually harvest and have had growing for over eight months.
We use a combination of BlockyTalky and weather:bit sensors to collect data and transmit that data wirelessly to a variety of data physicalizations (see below). We currently use a micro:bit in the garden connected to our sensor units to transmit data, via the micro:bit radio, from the garden to another micro:bit where that information can be used as desired. We are constantly adding new sensor and data storage capabilities to BlockyTalky and hope to soon be able to examine more details of the garden.
We are currently experimenting with how to creatively represent real-time and historical data about our garden through a computationally infused lantern. Our lanterns are inspired by the Japanese Aomori Nebuta Festival, an annual festival held in Aomori, Japan, where large lantern floats are created for months prior to the festival and then paraded around the city. This type of lantern is created using a wire structure covered in paper and painted with both wax and dye. The lights inside the lantern, LEDs in our case, dynamically change based information collected from our hydroponic garden.
We have built luminous science lanterns with students as young as Grade 1 and as old as college students. These workshops encourage participants to think about the intersections of art, science, and technology. Students come away with a beautiful lantern, some computer programming experience, and hopefully some new ideas about the integration of the arts and sciences.
Most recently we have ran a workshop for middle and high school teachers across art, science (chemistry, environmental science, physics), and computer science disciplines. In addition to building lanterns, we began to co-design unit plans for these teachers to implement in their classrooms in the upcoming school year.
Check out the blog to see updates on the garden, tree lantern, and classroom luminous science execution.
This project is supported by a gift from Oracle Corporation.
The Laboratory for Playful Computation is part of the ATLAS Institute at the University of Colorado Boulder.