Necessity is the mother of all invention

Necessity is the mother of all invention

Michelle doesn’t drink coffee, so she does not own a coffee pot. However, she did have a few coffee filters left over from making cocktail bitters. Fortuitously, she had also finished off a jug of milk the night before, leaving it on the counter because I hadn’t yet taken out the garbage (see! Procrastination pays, probably!) So, the milk jug bottom with a hole cut in the center holds the filter. The milk jug top holds the bottom instead of the filter because the handle was crumpling the filter. The weight of the jug assembly with grounds and water make the chop sticks grip the assembly on top of the jar (my favorite part), otherwise the top-heavy nature of the assembly would probably make it topple over. And now coffee is ready! I can’t tell if it tastes good because it’s freshly ground or because I’m just overly pleased with myself.

 
Fight!

Such and Such vs. Uberclocker Advance (credit: Charles Guan)

This past weekend I had the great pleasure of competing at NERC‘s Motorama Robot Conflict with my fighting robot Such and Such – built 100% at Hive76.

Though it might have looked a little boring, that was the most exciting match of the competition for me. After 2 years of on-and-off work, Such and Such, the most ambitious robot I’ll ever build, worked like a charm.

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ANTS! TREMBLE BEFORE YOUR NEW OVERLORDS!

Ants’ new home gets blinged up. They can thank us later…

Jordan, Pete and I managed to finish the ant farm!  It is now home to over 1000 red harvester ants.  Unlike old ant farms that use dirt or sand,  ours uses a gel that was originally developed by NASA for ant experiments in space.  We are still looking into ways to make the gel ourselves, but in the mean time we found a website that manufactures the stuff, antgel.com.   The gel contains all the food and water that the ants will need to survive.  It even helps prevent them from developing infections.  The ants should have everything they need to reach the end of their life cycle, which should be in about 6 months.  

Right now, all the ants in our farm are workers, we don’t have a queen yet.  We have been discussing ways in which we could obtain a queen.  But it will probably be awhile before we decided to go through with it, since we would have to take extra precautions to ensure that a queen wouldn’t escape.

We are trying to get a camera up and running so we can make some time lapse videos of the ants as they work.  In the meantime, stop by open house and check them out for yourself!

 

The ants are settling in and have begun making tunnels.

 

 

Our original plans. The actual farm size is 16.0″x26.9″x2.25″. We went with box dimensions that were in proportion to the golden ratio for ascetics.

 

Hydroponics Update

Spinach about a week after nutrients added.

 The spinach I was growing managed to complete most of its life cycle. Around a week after my last post I added the nutrient solution to the plants’ water, thats when they really started to take off.  I had one hiccup during the test run where I didn’t properly sent the flow rate of one the IV bags and half the nutrient solution was lost. If I was a little less… well lazy that day… I would have replaced it , but I didn’t.  So the IV bag ran out of nutrient solution and some of the plants died before they reached maturity.  Luckily, the rest of the plants managed to reach their flowering stage.  So overall, the IV bags were incredible useful. Thanks Jordan for the idea!

 Seeing how classes are starting to pick up, I figure now is a good time to stop the experiment and take some time to look over my notes.  But, I hope to have another prototype built by the end of next month. ( Btw, sorry for not being around open house lately to discuss hydroponics, I have a night class that meets at the same time this semester).

Speaking of which, a friend of mine who frequently stops by open house, Ian, has taken the plans of the hydroponic garden I built two years ago and built one of his own at home.  Suffice to say, the plants have grown wild and are firmly in control of his bedroom. Given how successful his garden has been, he’s inspired me to dust of my old plans and think about building another, LARGER, set up for just for show (the hydro setup currently at Hive is mainly for experimentation).  That’s all for now…

Spinach reaching maturity.

 

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SuperSized Ant Farm

Hive is getting it’s own hive (ants). We are building a giant ant farm out of sheets of 3/8″ acrylic with silicone caulk between and some steel bolts for holding everything together (and for that classic steampunk look). Rich and Pete and I got the thing together and Brendan did the boss trapezoid cut on top.

First test for water-tightness revealed one minor flaw which will be fixed this week.

Pete says: "It's like it was made for the trash!"

Water-testing in a clean trash can. Pete says: “It’s like it was made for the trash!!”

We're going all-in.

We’re going all-in.

 

TEDxYouth@SanDiego Logo

The critical shortage of organ donors in our healthcare system is the reason I’m registered to be an organ donor and motivates my research to develop suitable replacement technologies in the field of regenerative medicine. Video below! It was an honor and privilege to take part in TEDxYouth@SanDiego, which brought 400 San Diego high school students together to interact and think deeply about the future. It was incredible to speak with so many students who are truly the Architects of the Future.

From TEDxYouth@SanDiego:

Using simple yet illustrative analogies to help non-scientists understand his scientific discovery process, Biomedical Researcher Jordan Miller explains to his young audience how he developed vascular structures through 3-D printing. This exciting research is an important complement to advances medical researchers have made in 3-D printing bioidentical human tissue and organs in the lab. it’s a remarkable prospect for the future of organ transplantation.

Deriving inspiration from a cross section of bread and the sugar structure arcing over his dessert, Dr. Miller describes how he combined his background in regenerative medicine, a passion for the maker movement and reliance on worldwide open sourcing to develop viable 3-D printed vascular systems that he demonstrates actually transporting blood.

Jordan Miller, Ph.D. is a post-doctoral researcher in the Tissue Microfabrication Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania. Involved with the 3-D maker community since its infancy, Jordan uses a 3-D printer in his work in biomedical research and regenerative medicine and credits open-source collaboration and the maker movement as important contributors to the success of his research.

 

The Creator’s Project released a new video, and our sugar printing, gelation, and blood pumping was featured in it! Trackback is to 3Ders.org The project goal is to unify artists and technologists and this video is focused on 3D Printing:

And I just got done with a talk at ScienceOnTap Philly! It was a truly excellent night! Special thanks to the Organizers and also the Hivers who came out or emailed in their support! You peeps are the best.

Here are some pics via the Twittersphere. Thanks to the photographers for posting!

 

New hydroponic setup… Let’s just say my carpentry skills are a little rusty.

So here is a quick update on my hydroponics setup at Hive76.  In my previous post I uploaded a video on a hydroponic garden I built in my basement two years ago.  My goal was to build the setup with as little moving parts as possible to ensure the garden required little maintenance.  With the hydroponic garden I am building at Hive76 I decided to keep to the spirit of simplicity but a completely different approach with it.

With my latest version I am using medical grade IV bags to store the water above the plants.  Then by attaching a mechanism to the IV bags known as a ‘flow controller’, gravity pulls the water from the bags to the plants below at a consistent rate.  The rate at which water flows through that controller be anywhere from 5 to 250 ml / hr.

The IV bags and flow controllers are great because they are very inexpensive (one IV bag and flow controller cost me a few dollars from medtecmedical.com).  Plus they can potentially be reused since they are being used on plants and not humans if you are careful to prevent contamination. But possible the most useful thing about using IV bags is that they require no energy to operate, which further reduces costs.

IV bags filled with water.

To evenly distribute the water that is supplied by the IV bags to the plants, I put the plants within a medium of rockwool cubes that are about 1 cubic centimeter in size.  The rockwool essentially acts as a sponge that takes the water that is supplied by the IV drip and evenly distributes it to all the plants within the container.

I’m testing my current hydroponic setup on spinach seeds at the moment.  The plants are still in their infancy so I have not added nutrients to their water supply yet but I plan to do so in about a week(adding too high a concentration of nutrients to young plants can damage their roots).  My short term goal is to monitor the spinach in my hydroponic setup through its entire life cycle, taking general notes along the way.  After the plants have finished their life cycle I want to take some time to build a second prototype and post its plans on Hive’s webpage. Hopefully by that point, the system will be a useful platform for scientific experimentation. Then the real fun can begin!!!

Gravity flow controller: controls the flow rate of liquid from the IV bags.

Germinating seed in rockwool and temperature probe.

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Hydroponics at Hive76

My current project at Hive76 is working on indoor hydroponic systems.   The project comes from an interest in plants that I picked up from tending to my mother’s  garden as a child.   My family was fortunate to have enough land for a sizable garden when I was growing up, but now that I live near center city Philadelphia, good plots of land can be difficult to find. So I naturally turned to hydroponics because it is not limited by land area the same way that traditional farming is.

Hydroponics has the potential to revolutionize farming as we know it because it allows for plants to be grown in highly controlled environments.  This means that the light, water, and nutrients that plants need to thrive can be optimized to promote rapid growth while reducing waste and pollution.   Also, as mentioned before, hydroponics systems be built vertically instead of just horizontally, which is a huge benefit in dense urban environments like Philadelphia.

Even with all the potential benefits of hydroponics, it has yet to become a competitor with traditional farming in the open market.  There are many reasons for this, one reason is that the cost of lighting in an indoor hydroponic system will always cost more than traditional farming, which gets its light for free from the sun.  (Luckily the cost of lighting is dropping all the time with advancements in florescent bulbs and LED technology.) Another reason is that there is a lot of politics around farming that doesn’t favor the development of hydroponics.

Despite all the this, hydroponics is still holds a lot of potential to revolutionize agriculture.  It is also a great way to learn about plant science.  I’m particularly interested in using hydroponics to develop a low cost platform for amateur science experiments.   The hope is that by empowering people with the right tools , the next breakthrough in agriculture might come from a high-school student’s science fair project!

The hydroponic system that I am building at Hive76 is very much in the early stages. In the meantime, I wanted to post a video on a previous hydroponic system that I built in my basement 2 years ago.   It works by flooding the roots of the plants with water supplied by a reservoir below.

Enjoy and stay tuned for updates!

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