One morning we helped out the butterfly lab whip up a quick working instrument to help measure the pull strength of heliconius butterfly legs (for WAYYYY cheaper than scientific devices you can buy)!
The Pullinator is a device used to determine a butterfly’s strength by measuring how much weight they can pull. Our PhD student, Jessie, uses it to study muscle deterioration in butterflies as they age. Cool, right? But the best thing about The Pullinator is how it got made!
From their lab instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/CcrLzgCr_6b/ “It all started with Andrew K Davis et al paper where they measured grip strength in monarchs using a force gauge. As Jessie proceeded to search where to buy such device, her engineer Uncle asked, “why not build it yourself?” She began this operation by consulting the amazing @digital.naturalism.labs who successfully brought it to life! Later, Ernesto Bonadies from @biologickecentrumavcr suggested using sandpaper to standardize the friction of the gripping area as it has a defined numerical scale. Finally, the name and beautiful typescript came from our PhD student, Laura Hebberecht.”
This amazing device is just one example of the incredible things we can create when we use our creativity, intellect and most importantly, our collaborative spirit.
During his past couple trips at Dinalab, Marc Juul has been working on a device to stream high-quality, 360 degree audio from the middle of the rainforest to anywhere on earth (with internet). His latest incarnation is even more robust and self-contained (and features upcycled plastic inserts!)!
At the APPC https://www.appcpanama.org/ the biggest animal we work with (in fact the largest land animal south of mexico in the americas!) is the Baird’s tapir. She is HUGE and STRONG and SMART and it can be very difficult to make toys for her that will last!
when Paula Te visited though, we re-taught ourselves how to weld and got busy making a big strong enrichment feeder for her!
Here’s a full how-to guide we made to show how you can take bubble wrap (or any kind of #4 plastic sheets) I quite like the bubble-wrap texture that is maintained in the final results! (We used a @TeamMayku vacuum former)
The time flies here. On one hand that is a positive given but on the other hand it also means that time start getting short to work and finish my project. These past few weeks have been very fruitful. While Andy and Kitty were away to Sri Lanka to organise stuff for DinaCon, Serena, Jorge and I were ‘in charge’ of the Dinalab. Besides working on our projects, we had lots of dance parties, ice cream celebrations and movie nights.
After two and a half months with a lot of researching, experimenting and seeking inspiration, I decided to do my project here at Dinalab about Leafcutter Ants. With the concept of Umwelt in mind, I try to ga in a little bit more insight in how these ants perceive the(ir) world. Right now, I am experimenting with ‘sound’, or vibrations. Ants don’t make sounds through the air (air-borne), but through surfaces (substrate-borne). With the help of Lisa Schonberg (former DinaCon participant in 2019) I started exploring this with piezo microphones, which are surface microphones. The cool thing is that you can use piezo as a microphone and as a speaker! So besides recording, I am testing whether the Leafcutter ants will react to certain frequencies and changes in frequencies. So excited to find out what is coming from this! Maybe we will even be able to communicate with ants in the future… 🐜
Serena and I started working on our collaborative project under the name ‘Cool2’. We chose three main themes where we wanted to build the project around, which are Nature, Feminism and Arduino. From these themes we started creating a mindmap and picked out four keywords which spoke to us the most. Cycle, misunderstood, meaning and ruthless. Last week we got the idea to make a plant that shows you in which fase of your menstrual cycle you are in by the colour of LED lights. The LEDs will light up when you water or touch it. This is a new way to track your period and to simultaneously learn about periods. The thought behind this was sparked by the fact that a lot of women I know use a period tracker but are not consciously aware of the fase they are in. For example, sometimes I would get quite moody and sad and then in a week or less I get my period. Afterwards I am always like: ‘Oh now I understand, I just needed to get my period!’ What a relief 😉
In the time period when Kitty and Andy I kept on volunteering at the APPC. My love for the sloths grows stronger each day. They are just the cutest things ever! Especially Ingmar, the sloth I named after my supercute cousin. Such a kind soul 💕 New sloth fun fact by the way: sloths have four stomachs, just like cows. Also Mireya taught me a lot about the different plants that the sloths and Valencia the tapir eat. I learned to recognize poro poro, indio desnudo, jobo, cecropia, mango and berignon.
For a long time Andy has been working on trying to sense ants. This has been proven to be a difficult task because they are so tiny, fast and with so many. Andy made a 3D design for a simple ant gate where leafcutters can be sensed. The gate works with a light source (in this case a laser because a laser light is the most stable) and a photoresistor. Right now, the ant gate only works for ants with leaves. If I have time, I will try to make the ant gate better by making it more sensitive to smaller ants, and ants without leaves, as well. Anyway, it was a fun (side) project that involved leafcutters and Arduino!
Serena and I also organised a small Arduino workshop for some students are doing a project with a heart rate sensor and a GPS. We taught them the basics of Arduino and they learned it very quickly. Thank you Daniel and your group for joining us and being so enthusiastic and good students! Good luck with the project 🙂
Luckily there was also enough time to explore the beautiful nature that Gamboa has to offer. I took Serena for the first time to Pipeline Road and she was very happy as you can see in the picture. Last week Andy organised a night hike. It had been a long time since I had been on one so it was very nice to go on one again. We saw so many frogs and I saw my first treefrog! Andy says that you haven’t been to Panama if you haven’t seen one. So fortunately now I can say that I have been in Panama for real!!
And last but not least there was also a lot of time to do fun stuff with my Gamboa friends. We went bowling, partying in the city, watching series and movies and playing tennis and volleyball. For the week I also went to Bocas del Toro with Josie and had a super fun time!
The upcoming weeks I will be working very hard on finishing my project. It will be a lot of recording sounds and videos, experimenting with different sounds, frequencies and other stimuli and combining this to a meaningful endproduct. Hopefully the ants will cooperate and will I be able to share something very special, a glimpse of one part of the Umwelt of a Leafcutter Ant. Can’t wait to unravel the secret life of Leafcutter ant 🕵️♀️ I will be back…
I initially arrived to Panama at night; during the drive from the airport to Gamboa, I heard the sounds of the rainforest in the dark for the very first time, and I felt awe of nature wash over me.
A couple of weeks into my time here, Andy organized a night hike. Thinking back to how I felt during that first drive from the airport, I was super excited for the opportunity to explore the jungle in the dark.
And what an incredible night this was! I mean, just look at all the cool creatures we saw!!
A highlight of the hike was when the whole group took a couple of moments to turn all our lights and headlamps off, allowing our eyes to adjust to the darkness. Within a few moments, your eyes will read more details in your surroundings, and the layers of the forest start to form; slowly, you begin to see the canopy, then the stream banks, then people’s silhouettes. Eventually, fine details that you don’t expect start coming through, like stream pebbles and people’s faces!
One of my greatest takeaways from this experience is how rejuvenating exposure to nature can be, even when the expedition seems daunting. I would be lying if I said I was not a little nervous going into the rainforest at night, but the experience was actually grounding and regenerative. Given that I grew up near the Red Sea, the closest thing I could compare this hike to is a scuba dive or snorkeling trip; you take your time to wander a novel, incredibly biodiverse environment, pointing out all the cool creatures that you spot to the rest of the group.
I feel inspired by all the cool patterns and textures we saw – the slimy Red Eyed Tree Frog egg clutches, dark canopy silhouettes, and infinite frog color combinations. I’m looking forward to returning to the Dinalab and incorporating these elements of nature into my work.
One of my research goals is to better understand what students in the natural sciences have to navigate when they are interested in transdisciplinary (TD*) experiences. To do so, I’ve been talking to students who have multidisciplinary interests and are curious about integrating that into their science. During some of these discussions, we’ve been drafting journey maps of our learning experiences. Some guiding questions included:
At which points in your learning journey did you feel like you had to choose a discipline to “belong” to? When did you start learning or internalizing disciplinary demarcations between science, art, humanities, design, technology, etc…?
Below you can see some of the sketchnotes drafted from these discussions. Do any of these reflections resonate with you? Can you think of when you felt the need to pick a discipline to box yourself into?
*TD: stands for “transdisciplinary”, referring to that which is at once between the disciplines, across the different disciplines, and beyond all discipline (Nicolescu, 1970)
My name is Serena, and I’m the most recent addition to the Dinalab team of resident researchers! I’m a Palestinian Jordanian student at Drexel University (USA), and I’m incredibly lucky to be able to incorporate a three-month internship at the Dinalab for part of my undergraduate degree.
I’m looking forward to working with the Dinalab on interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research in environmental science. My investigations primarily address the questions:
How can we empower students with the broad knowledge types needed to tackle complex sustainability issues? How do we teach and conduct environmental science when issues of rapid environmental degradation are intimately intertwined with social injustice, political disruption, and financial inequities?
This lab’s maker space in the rainforest is the ideal place for naturalists to diversify the lenses and skillsets used to approach environmental issues. For instance, I have been learning a lot about coding and Arduinos as tools for bringing humans closer to nature, and I look forward to seeing how these new skills inform my projects on science communication in the future.
Follow along to read about my reflections and process revelations in the jungle!
I was invited to spend two weeks in residency at DiNaLab in February. Ahead of my visit I had begun to meld my practices as a horticulturist and fiber artist into an exploration of crochet leaf studies. I decided to spend my time at DiNaLab furthering this exploration with the hope of making something new with the leaves. Kitty and I had been discussing the possibility of collaborating on a piece during my residency, as she is also a wonderful fiber artist. I love her amigurumi creatures and decided to make a home for some of them among a crochet leafy jungle.
Fiber work can be a slow process (as can life) and I wasn’t able to make as many leaves as I would have liked. But in the end there were enough to make a nice home for a very cute sloth and a shimmery hummingbird, both knitted by Kitty. We made a headdress that one might wear as camouflage in the jungle or while rollerblading around Gamboa.
I also learned a new skill at DiNaLab: using a laser cutter. I was really inspired by Andy and Kitty’s plastic projects. I love their keychain and earring designs and decided to take a crack at my own. Andy helped me create a two-layer papaya design to turn into earrings. I also repurposed some of Kitty and Andy’s existing designs to make new jewelry. I was able to pull off a mini collection in my time there and then got to collaborate with DiNaLab intern Lieke on a tropical photoshoot.
DiNaLab was the perfect place to be after a very long and stressful pandemic experience in New York City. Each morning I sat in the yard with my coffee, watching the menagerie of critters: ñekes, toucans, chachalacas, iguanas, sloths, hummingbirds, and even one blue morpho butterfly who seemed to have a regular daily commute. I spent a lot of time staring at the leaves around me, noticing the subtle changes in colors, the curves in their forms, the way the light changed them completely. After two plus years of frantically trying to keep afloat during the pandemic, slowing that far down reset the chemistry in my brain.
It’s rare to find folks as welcoming and supportive as Andy and Kitty. It was a delight to spend time making and talking about fiber art with Kitty. And being around Andy as he tinkers and explores his various projects was exciting and inspiring. Gamboa itself is an inspiring setting with the dense tropical forest and abundant wildlife. It was hard to find the emotional space to be creative during the worst of the pandemic. At DiNaLab I felt my head once again beginning to swirl with ideas.
Chelsea is an artist and horticulturalist living in Brooklyn, NY. Best known for her crochet costumes, Chelsea also works in a variety of other mediums including performance, installation, and live plants. Chelsea has exhibited her work both in the U.S. and abroad.