It’s true! Magnus Berggren, an organic electronics researcher at Linköping University in Sweden, has recently been featured in the press regarding the work that he & his collaborators have been able to accomplish – turning plants into living circuit manufacturing centers.
Huh?!? Yeah… Don’t believe it? Read on…
While the last two articles covered how naturally-occurring electric fields were discovered to improve plant growth, at this time I’d like to touch briefly on how naturally-occurring sounds may elicit similar enhancements.
To begin, have you ever heard of an album called “Music to Grow Plants”? It’s a record album by Dr. George Milstein in 1972, the same era of time when the book called _“The Secret Life of Plants” was published. It was claimed that the songs on that recording contained special sounds that actually improved growth…Root Simple has a post on it that actually links to the actual album and song samples. Another book from back then that documented these experiments was one by Dorothy Retallack, “The Sound of Music and Plants”.
Strange as it sounded back then, nowadays, more people are working on research that shows it may not be as far fetched as once thought!
Modern Plant Sound Research & Experimentation
First of all, one researcher who has been in the electroculture scene for some time who is also experimenting with the effects of sound waves on plant growth is Yannick Van Doorne. On his website, Music For Your Plants, he shares the history of this topic as well as his own research.
Another researcher of interest is Dr. Monica Gagliano of the University of Western Austrailia. She is an expert in plant communication and along with others in the field have shown that plants communicate with each other in a number of ways ranging from emitting and detecting various gases, to communicating via sound waves. So like Dr. Van Doorne has discovered, she has also found that some plants respond very favorably to sounds too, as demonstrated in the show Earth Unplugged. One such frequency was 200 Hz which was found to be very effective at causing corn to grow towards the sound source – sonotropism perhaps? An interesting next step would be to see which types or frequencies of sounds had positive effects on a wide array of plants, to see if there were any interesting correlations.
It’s really cool that many people have taken an interest in this line of plant acceleration, as they have actually experimented with different forms of sound beyond those of nature sounds, static frequency tests, and to even more complicated forms of music, like “death metal” – which was experimentally determined to be the most effective form of music in a number of tests performed by the cast of MythBusters in Episode 23 (2004). There’s even an experiment that shows positive physiological changes occur when a plant is “tweeted” at – via TalkToAPlant.com.
So perhaps when we hear that talking to plants helps them grow better, perhaps there’s more to it than just our sharing of exhaled carbon dioxide…
What are your thoughts on this subject? Let us know what you think in the comments below!
Nature & Electricity – Part 2: Natural Earth Currents and Plant Health
Note: This article is part 2 of a chapter excerpt from our book on Electro-Horticulture. Enjoy…
If you missed the previous posts that were a part of this series, check out part 1.
In this mini-series, the goal is to focus on the interplay between natural forms of electricity and it’s impact upon plant-life. Here we’re going to continue on that topic, this time with respect to electrical currents that flow through the ground.
When I first learned about electroculture and I heard about the nitrogen-based lightning argument mentioned in part 1, it sort-of made sense to me. And as I learned more about the effect of electric fields on cells, i.e. how cells have the ability to sense and respond to electric fields, the idea that they responded during thunderstorms also made sense.
But I was totally surprised to learn that there are also electric fields constantly moving throughout the earth, imparting an effect on all life.
In roughly the same time period that experiments with atmospheric electricity began, another earth-based electrical discovery was made: that the ground itself has an electrical component!
In the early 1860s, scientists around the world were experimenting with earth-based electrical systems in the form of earth batteries. In 1862, one scientist (Lamont, 1862) from the Munich Alps performed an experiment that showed the world the presence of natural electric fields running along the surface of the Earth. They also ran within the earth to some degree.
In this experiment, two metal plates were placed, some distance apart, into the ground along the Earth’s magnetic or astronomical meridians, i.e. north-south lines. They were then connected together using some wire along with a sensitive voltmeter or ammeter. What was observed was the presence of natural forms of electricity that were generally stronger in the north-south direction compared to the east-west directions. In fact, it was discovered that the strongest currents flowed south to north.
Upon further experimentation, the following additional observations were made. The currents:
- Flow on the surface of the Earth
- Follow a path of least resistance
- Move between each hemisphere constantly
- Move differently in the day and the night:
- – Daytime: Currents move toward the equator
- – Nighttime: Currents move toward the poles
Furthermore, by taking measurements in many different places, maps could be created showing the relative strength of these fields over certain geographic areas.
Modern Uses of Ground-Based Electric Currents
As an aside, one modern use of the knowledge that electricity flows within the ground is in the use of device called Wenner Arrays, which are devices that apply electric currents into the ground for the purpose of determining the location of geological features underground, e.g. The depth of bedrock, location of water or oil, etc.
Cosmic and Planetary Influences
So where do these Earth-currents come from?
A good portion of the “induced” electric fields over the planet come from interactions between the solar wind and the magnetosphere, which protects the planet from harmful cosmic radiation. They are also the result of interactions between the sun’s radiation and the planet’s ionosphere. Variations in these bodies range from subtle changes over days or weeks to rapidly changing geomagnetic “storms.” These storms are capable of inducing varying amounts of electricity in the ground. Thus, when there are changes in the electromagnetic activity in our atmosphere, the Earth is also affected.
An excellent resource on the subject of atmospheric and telluric electricity can be found in a collection of articles called The Earth’s Electrical Environment
Biological Effects from Natural Electric Phenomena
So what are the biological effects that come from the intersection between these cosmo-planetary energies and biology? Let’s look at a few case studies.
Electric Fields and Plant Life
Since we now understand that the air around us is naturally charged, we can form a hypothesis that states that plants (and perhaps all surface life as well) require exposure to electric fields in order to grow properly. This idea has been tested a number of times throughout history.
There have been a few studies that have shown that plants can have a difficult time surviving when grown under a form of electro-magnetic shielding known as a Faraday’s Cage. One early experiment was performed in 1898 by M. Grandeau, a French agricultural chemist, and M. Leclerq who performed studies into the effect of atmospheric electricity on plants. They discovered that shielding plants from the Earth’s electric field using a grounded wire net had a detrimental effect on plant health, stating that the plants looked “feebly” [via Electricity, A Popular Electrical Journal, Volumes 4-5, Electricity Newspaper Company, 1893]. It turned out that the uncovered plants grew 50 to 60 percent better than the shielded plants. Furthermore, they found that flowering and fruiting processes were adversely affected by the lack of electric field exposure. [via Artem and Lockyer.]
This has been studied in modern times too; here’s an example from Steven Magee, an author and researcher interested in the harmful effects of high-frequency electromagnetic RF radiation, that shows how plants suffer from a loss of chlorophyll content and other abnormalities when placed in an ungrounded wire cage. In this video, you’ll see how a houseplant is adversely affected by the lack of atmospheric electricity, as demonstrated by its nearly transparent, discolored, smaller and somewhat deformed leaves. Now that we can experimentally see that exposure to electric fields is essential, we can also see that there have been a number of other examples showing the positive influence from natural forms of electricity. Here are some examples [via here, chapter 16]:
- Magnetic fields have been discovered as being used for the orientation of aquatic bacteria and migrating birds.
- Telluric currents could play a role in the control of some fish.
- Enhanced DNA synthesis has been reported for human fibroblasts exposed to magnetic field fluctuations that correlate with frequencies and amplitudes similar to geomagnetic occurrences.
- Weak magnetic fields (e.g. those from solar storms or geomagnetic fields) may affect how chemical reactions perform.
- And, as will be covered throughout the rest of the book, plants react to electric fields through faster growth, greener leaves and stems, increased root mass and more!
Ground Current and Human Health
In addition to being beneficial to plants and animals, it’s worth mentioning that it is suspected that ground currents play a significant role in keeping humans healthy too! In fact, native folklore around the world suggests that it’s best to spend time outside, in nature, with bare feet on the ground. A friend of mine told me that his Pakistani grandmother used to tell him how wonderful it felt to be outside early in the morning on bare feet, when the dew was dew was still present on the ground (because it provides a better electrical connection). In the Chinese tradition it has been suggested that maximum health comes from the practice of Chi Kung (also spelled as QiGong), practiced outside in bare feet.
Just recently I was reminded of these ideas when a colleague introduced me to the documentary, The Grounded. The film showcases a small town in Alaska as well as physicians, scientists, and even an astronaut, talking about the free healing energy that’s available to us at all times – simply connecting to the Earth.
As you’ll see in the movie, grounded sunflower plants sitting in water last a whole lot longer than those plants isolated from their natural planetary connection. Check out this movie to see some interesting experimentsand case-studies on the benefits of connecting not only plants, but also ourselves, to the Earth.
Now that we understand that electrical energies (and magnetic ones, too) are present all around us, and furthermore that they have a favorable effect on the promotion of life, it follows suit that as engineers and scientists, we can take this science to the next level by making it practical.
Since we know that low levels of baseline energies are required for (plant) life to simply survive, and we also know that there have been times that life seems to flourish when there is an abundance of electrical energy present, the next step is to figure out how we can develop engineered methods to optimize growth processes at our own discretion, rather than hoping for a few passing thunderstorms to enhance growth.