Thinking with Moss: Moss Breath and the Jungle Smallification Device

I was invited to join the “Thinking with Moss” colloquium about moss held at NYU. After our day of gathering together and discussing the role of moss in the world, we were asked to freely contemplate the discussions and produce something.

It is wonderful to be given such an opportunity.

One thing I was most excited about at the colloquium is that I got to talk about my favorite moss (it grows on big leaves and which gives a delightful smell when you brush against it in the forest) and someone knew what I was talking about! They told me is wasn’t a moss but a kind of liverwort likely a type of Leptolejeunea [] or something in the larger Lejeuneaceae family.

It’s one of my favorite smells in the forest. The intoxicating, licorice-like aroma has captivated me for years and led me to think more deeply about ways I want to be engage with this plant. It led me to the formation of two different projects:

Moss Breath

The Jungle Smallification Device

Moss Breath

“Moss Breath” was the first project I started working on following the “Thinking with Moss”Colloquium. I thought about how much I enjoy the action of breathing in the tiny moss chemicals in the forest, and ways that, perhaps, my breathe could interact with these mosses as well.

This inspired this writing:

“I like to think that plants play an active role in our lives. That they excrete chemical to change our behavior. I like to think about them parasitizing us, in a friendly way, to help themselves grow. Rewarding us with smells and chemicals that make us feel bonded to the forest.

There is a moss (likely actually a liverwort) in the rainforest that grows on the surfaces of big flat leaves. It already steals the sunshine from the other plants around, but when you brush against it, it releases an intoxicating aroma that gives me and other humans pause. Taking a deep breath brings a calmness, and I feel a bond with the rest of the plants around me. Maybe it is wishful thinking, or an escapist fantasy of somehow getting to leave the human world and getting to glimpse into the plant world, but i always imagine these delightful chemicals entering my body and allowing these photosynthetic friends to take over.

For each breath I take of the forest, i grew a desire to breathe back into it.”

I started working on prototypes that could let me complete this interactive cycle between me and the moss. I have been studying bubbles (and even crafted a whole “Bubblepunk” zine about bubble hacking: In my research, I found a group of scientists who have been using bubble machines to artificially pollinate flowers. They mix pollen and bubble fluid and fly drones with bubble machines over the crops to disperse the pollen onto the waiting plants’ pistils.

My thought was to use this technique to propagate my favorite moss (or liverwort). I can collect the moss and blend with bubble fluid. I then load this mossy mix into a custom, face-mounted bubble machine. It has an arduino which monitors my breathing and creates mossy bubbles each time I breathe out.

The bubbles land on the surfaces I pass, depositing the moss particles as the bubble pop. The moss spreads with each breath I take.

My goal with this project was to feel infected with the moss. I want to be contagious with green life that I spread about via my own bodily processes.

I have build the initial prototypes for the breathe monitor and the bubble actuator, but want more time to make a beautiful design and craft a video of this concept.

testing the face bubbler

Jungle Smallification Device

Working on the “Moss Breath” project inspired a spin-off project, the “Jungle Smallification Device.” It is a piece of guerilla artwork situated in the rain forest. It grew from the sentiment I had with the Moss Breath project.

Ego-Dissolving Selfie-Station

I wanted something that would make people feel less in control and, in fact, overpowered by the immense green world surrounding them. At the same time, I thought it would be funny to contrast this message with the inherent narcissism of a mirror. So the idea would be to set up a sort of “ego-dissolving selfie-station” along a rainforest trail.

I found a large fisheye-mirror (the kind normally used along roads with blind corners to help cars navigate). The point of this mirror is that it shrinks and situates you inside a much larger field of view.

I fixed a old broken vinyl cutter machine to cut out text which would curve along the periphery of the mirror. The text says:


I then salvaged some old bits of metal and created a custom holster for this large mirror.

Finally, I got a biologist friend to haul the parts out with me to a nearby patch of jungle. There is a lovely Ceiba (Kapok) tree along a trail i know whose gorgeous roots form a small enclave. This functioned well to frame the big silvery eyeball of this artwork.

We hammered in the metal shaft and cut it to position the mirror at a human visitor level. Finally it was secured it with several metal straps.

The piece stands shimmering apart from the surrounding rain-forest.

It catches your eye as you pass through the forest, draws you near, and then asks you to change your perspective and situate yourself as just a small part of your surroundings.

Mirrors are also interesting from a behavioral point of view (for animals or people), and so i set up a camera trap to see how local creatures interact with this new, strange object. I positioned the camera to not be too noticeable, and also hopefully just catch people’s reactions from the back without seeing their faces.

Results: Installation 1

The results of this first installation came out terrifically!

Unfortunately didn’t catch any animal visitors, but the humans gave great reactions.

Ill post a more detailed description of what happened, but basically after a week of dozens of tourists walking by and taking endless selfies, the nearby hotel sent some guys to literally attack and tear down the art installation (note: this is a public area, not the hotel’s property).

Visual Portfolio, Posts & Image Gallery for WordPress

I am really enjoying seeing people’s reaction to this work and the little meditative pause / narcissistic impulse it gives to people passing through this beautiful place. Also really enjoyed seeing the point where this simple, basic kind of piece even drives folks to violently attacking it. I guess the hotel doesn’t want people to think they are a small part of an immense world.

Mothbox – Mothbox – Automated Field Moth Light Camera

In November 2022, I was enlisted to design an automated, low-cost moth camera with Hubert Szczygiel to help with his bio-diversity assay work with Earthshot labs reforestation projects in Panama.

We then obtained a bit more funding in April 2023 from Michigan State University Professor Phoebe Zarnetske to help further design the project for use in their Rainforest X-prize entry.

I set about sourcing hardware components that would work together and fit into a small, portable, weatherproof, and transparent box. So far tests are looking quite promising!

All design files are currently located here

This is an open science hardware project and all aspects of its design are granted a CC0 License and/or CERN Open Hardware License where applicable.

Mothbox – Automated Field Moth Light Camera by Andrew Quitmeyer is marked with CC0 1.0 Universal

Floating Bat Camera Traps – Jenna Kohles

Jenna Kohles studies bats in the chagres river next to gamboa. She needs to study them and the insects that gather around certain parts of the river both acoustically and visually. We helper her design and manufacture floating camera traps that help keep the cameras oriented statically even in shifting waves of the river.

All the design files are located here:

Full stabilizer

Foam layers

Camera model Ricoh wg-50

early Stabilizer

floating traps on water (camera is removed for changing cards)
camera trap gimbal


Hacking bubble machines for fun, celebrations, and science!

I will try to collect links to the projects we create about bubble punk (3d models, schematics, how-to articles, zines, etc..) all here! Your one-stop shop for Burbujacking!


Here’s a link to the full zine hosted on

How-To Articles

Here’s a list of Hackaday bubblehacking projects

Design Files

Upcycled Artwork for Fundraising

Resources can be limited in the jungle, but prototyping needs lots of iterations, and thus creates lots of garbage! To help avoid transporting expensive new materials, and further creating even more garbage in the world, we are trying to make it so that our (solar powered) prototyping workshop uses 100% garbage as materials.

As an beneficial outlet for our experiments with upcycling plastic for instance, we create keychains, earrings, clocks, and other works of art that we sell to raise money for nice organizations.

Our sales have primarily gone to the APPC animal rescue, but we have also made donations to Adopta Bosque, Salva El Grillo (LGBTQ+ activism group),

We even won a prize from Hackaday and we used the money to help get more supplies to Dreamspace Academy in Sri Lanka.

Kitty has been the main artist heading up our upcycled art fundraisers!

Near-Sighted Camera Traps – Denise Dell’Aglio

Denise is a Post Doc interested in studying different aspects of the ecology of Heliconius. Currently, she is focusing on the role of mushroom bodies in their spatial and visual memory through behavioral experiments.

She came to the GOSH 2022 Global Gathering because she wanted help with a challenge she had studying her butterflies with camera traps. We managed a quick and easy hack that let her work flourish!

The PIR sensors picked up the butterfly movement fine (to my surprise!), but she needed to get up close imagery of them, and the camera traps normally have a set focal length for much further away. We were thinking about hacking the lenses, but during the camera trap hacking session at #gosh2022 (there’s no tag for this yet) with fellow hackers Pen and George Albercook , we came up with an even easier fix!

This week Denise bought some cheap reading glasses (+3.00), we precisely cut them, and we velcroed them on!

out of focus before
after hack with perfect focus!

Plant Carbon Experiments – Mareli Sanchez

Mareli Sanchez does research here in Gamboa about plant-fungi interactions:

She wants to trakc how much carbon (sugar) the plant gives to their fungal friends (mycorrhizal fungi), and how much it keeps to itself. She needed a portable way to create a controlled atmosphere to inject specific isotopes of carbon into the plants in the field.

We helped obtain materials and brainstorm designs for how to build these devices, and she succeeded fantastically!

Parachuting Bugs – Taylor Bi

Taylor Bi is a researcher from Oxford studying “Matador Bugs” under the supervision of Ummat Somjee. We helped her with loaning some computer vision equipment to help studying these bugs getting dropped in front of an experimental setup!

From Taylor:

“The insects have very interesting hind leg morphology, and I’m investigating whether the ‘flags’ (cuticular extensions) on their back legs have any relationship to their aerial manoeuvrability. Interestingly the flag is present on all nymphal stages, as well as on adults, so I’ve been investigating how flag surface area changes throughout development, and whether large flag to body surface area predicts greater parachuting or gliding patterns!”

“Here are a few pictures of the experiment! So I used the calibration board to allow the integration of 2D information from the two GoPros I set up at orthogonal angles into 3D information, and the arduino and LED made up the sync light that flashed at a distinct pattern, which allowed me to time calibrate the two GroPros I was using to film the falls.”

How to BE an Amateur Biologist

It has been about three months ago since I last wrote my blogpost ‘How to Become an Amateur Biologist 4’. I have been travelling, through Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Ireland. The latter being a bit of an outlier, but you do everything to see your foremost favourite artist, in my case Theo Katzman. And now, I am sitting here back in my student room in Leiden in the Netherlands, where I just started uni last week again. Back to studying, back to routine and back to the lovely Dutch weather. I wanted to write one last blogpost for Dinalab. To update you on the finishing of my project, but also to reflect on what I have learned at Dinalab, in Gamboa as a certified (self-named ;p) amateur biologist.

Eventually, I ended up making boots (using Andy’s massive old boots), where people could experience what it is like to ‘hear sounds’, or better said perceive vibrations, like a leafcutter ant does. For the boot, I created these ‘legwarmers’ where I sewed into two vibration motors (two in each legwarmer; four in total). In Arduino I wrote a piece of code where the vibration motors outputted data from audio recordings of leafcutters, cutting and foraging leaves. The audio recordings were transposed into numerical values, so the vibrators would vibrate more intense when the values from the audio recordings were higher. These values are abstracted from the amplitude of the audio recording (which is also influenced by pitch in the audio file). However, I wanted to make the experience a little bit more interesting and let all of the four vibrators vibrate at different times and different intensities and speeds. The audio recording consists of multiple ants making ‘sound’, so by letting each vibrator vibrate differently I wanted to recreate the effect of individual ants producing these vibrations/sounds.

I named my project ‘SignificAnt’. Ants are often seen as pests, as little, insignificant creatures. However, ants, or in this case leafcutter ants,  have a very important function relating to decomposition, soil health and other basic ecological functions. So, the name refers to the important and unmissable role that leafcutter ants have and play in the ecosystem. Besides the meaning of ‘significant’ and the clearly recognizable ‘ant’, ‘sign’ is also an important part of the word. Since the concept ‘sign’ plays an important role in Jakob von Uexküll’s Umwelt, the name seemed to fit perfectly.  

I could test out the Significant boots on the first (what an honour!) Dinalab exhibit, which took place on the 11th of June. The week before the exhibition Serena and I have been working incredibly hard, until the late hours, being sleep deprived, eating poorly, but also laughing incredibly hard together. Serena’s delicious tea and listening to Theo Katzman kept us sane. The exhibit was a big success; many people showed up and showed genuine interest. We both presented our own individual projects and our menstruation plant, Andy and Kitty sold lots of keychains for the APPC (including my designs 😊) and lots of people tried out my boots and asked interesting questions. In the evening, me, Josie and Finn organised a goodbye/birthday party and it was the perfect ending to a very fun, but exhausting day.

As the name of the title suggests, in this post I am going to tell you how I became an amateur biologist now. Before going to Dinalab I wrote down some goals and philosophy for my stay there. I will further elaborate on them below.

The goal of the project, or in general for my stay at Dinalab, was firstly to make something physical, as in a physical, tangible product. I am a person that very much lives in my head. I think a lot, so I have a lot of ideas and thoughts about things, however I have great difficulty with bringing out these ideas and thoughts out into the world. Although, it was still super hard and challenging for me to go from a framework, to a question, to a concept and eventually to the actual product, I am glad to say that I did it!!! I learned so much from the whole process. Andy helped me out a lot, which I am very grateful for. So I am happy to check this foremost important goal of my list!

Secondly, think like nature, was another goal. Von Uexküll’s paper is all about this. Studying organisms in its own environment, in its own small little ecosystem, in its own respect. In order to be able to this, you have to think like nature, understand everything that goes on in the world of your subject of study. Although this is actually not very feasible, since it takes a lifetime to understand an organism fully in its own context. Nevertheless, I feel I have been come a little bit closer to thinking like nature, by looking at the leafcutter ants at work day in, day out. I also see ‘think like nature’ more as a philosophy, instead of a plan per se.

One other important goal that I had was to have fun! School and university sometimes makes you lose contact with the having fun part of studying and discovering the world, since the system is based on deadlines, performance and grades. However, this was also harder than expected, since I am a major perfectionist and my project is part of my Master’s degree and gets evaluated. Together with Andy, we made a very basic ‘Ant Gate’ which could detect ants walking through the gate. Luckily, besides having fun making stuff, I also got to have lots of fun with my dearest lab buddy Serena, dancing around Dinalab, singing our souls out, getting angry at the code of our project and catching up on the hot goss of Gamboa. Andy was my partner in crime mindwise, with the same crazy ideas and thoughts about the world, and Kitty was my partner in crime at APPC talking about how cute and funny(looking) sloths are and bashing people of the hotel.

Another goal, although a very basic one, was to get to know and learn about local flora and fauna. I learned so much about different kinds of animals and plants from scientists from the Smithsonian, local people and Kitty and Andy. For example, I learned so much about bats, butterflies, birds, frogs, plants and trees, ants and about lots of other big and small creatures.

And with all this new knowledge comes a new sense of curiosity. Nature keeps on surprising and amazing me and being in the jungle this all became more explicit. It brought me so much inspiration and new interests, and even more questions than answers. I hope to bring this home to the Netherlands. Although the environment is very different, I hope to continue to stay curious, adventurous, open-minded and to be respectful of nature and all its living beings, which in the end, are, for me, the most important character traits of a (amateur) biologist.

Unfortunately, a few days after the Dinalab exhibit my stay was coming to an end and I needed to start getting ready for my big backpacking trip; cleaning up Dinalab and saying goodbye to my dearest Gamboa friends and family. These last days were really stressful and emotional and I had a really hard time saying goodbye to Gamboa, the people, the nature and the animals.

My experience at Dinalab has been beyond my expectations. Andy and Kitty’s hospitality will continue to amaze me, especially considering I have been there for four months and the lines between work and personal life can get blurry. I have met the most amazing people, who have become, still are and will be my friends from Gamboa for life. Also, working at APPC has taught me so much about sloths and the other animals living there. They do incredibly good work and I am very happy to have been part of a team where people care so much about animals and nature. Luckily, there is still so much good in the world 🙂

Thanks to everyone that made my stay at Dinalab and in Gamboa in general so memorable. Thanks for all the help, fun, support, knowledge and crazy adventures. And an extra big shout out to Andy and Kitty, thanks for making me feel so welcome and at home. Thanks for teaching me so many cool new fun facts and skills. And lastly, thank you for letting me mess up Dinalab, using all the cool machines and eating your pizza 😉

Can’t believe that this was my last blog post from my stay at Dinalab (at least for now ;)) I really hope to get back to Gamboa, because I have had the time of my life there! Untill next time. Love you all <3

With lots of love,

Amateur biologist 😉

How To Become An Amateur Biologist 104

Always when I look back at my blogposts, it surprises me how quick time goes by and how much I have done and learned. Looking at ‘How to become an amateur biologist 103’, all the stuff that I wrote about seems so far away already. Also considering the progress of my project. It feels like ages ago that I have decided to something with sounds and vibrations in ants, but actually it is not even that long ago! Anyway, I guess that’s a good sign, right? Unfortunately, my stay in Gamboa and with that at Dinalab is coming to an end. With only two weeks left I am working hard to finish up my project and enjoy as much of Gamboa, the people, nature and all of its finest things and quirks as possible. However, for now I still have to tell you about everything I have done and learned these past weeks.

A week is never the same here in Gamboa. You might have nothing planned in the night and then someone texts you: “We are leaving to go lizard seeking in five minutes, you wanna join?” And in five minutes you find yourself in your field clothes, boots and headlamp, weaponed with your bugspray , ready to seek some lizards. This actually happened. The Gamboa life, or in general the Latin-America lifestyle, with its chaoticness, leaves more room for spontaneity which I love! It has been a breath of fresh air from the lifestyle in the Netherlands, where everything is very much structured and planned weeks in advance. It is going to be hard adjusting back to these habits in September 😉

The only constants here are doing my project at Dinalab and going to APPC on Friday’s. Scrolling through my pictures, you will mostly find stuff about my project and adorable (and occasionally also scary) animals. APPC has been great, and I am still very much loving my quality one-on-one, or one-on-many time with the sloths. I really am gonna miss them when I leave. Oof, I am already becoming sentimental. I will try to save that for the last one in this series of blogposts. Anyway, new sloth fact: Sloths closest relatives are anteaters and armadillos, and they descent from this massive terresterial sloth that were as big elephants 😮

For my project I was testing out different frequencies and patterns of frequencies on the Leafcutter Ants in front of Dinalab. At one point I noticed that there was some yellow-orangish substance on the piezo disk, which I hadn’t seen before. I cleaned the disk and tried it again on a different part of the trail with the same vibration settings (100hz with a duration of 100ms). Then I saw with my own eyes that (one of) the ants was/were secreting this substance. How exciting!!! But why, what, how and when? 🐜

The vibration pattern seems to elicit some kind of ‘distress’ response in the ants. They start attacking the piezo disk like crazy and try to bite/cut it. Also, when the other ants smelled the substance, they flinched away. The entomologists I have spoken to think the substance is something like faecal matter, or in other words, ant poop. 💩 They told me that, apparently, the matter serves as a fertilizer inside of the nest and as a deterent outside the nest. Maybe when excreted in ‘fear’, an additional chemical compound is added to the excretion, which is called context-dependent chemical signaling. One of the entomologists, Alissa, wants to check what the chemical substance is in the lab, which is super exciting!! Probably it is ‘just’ poop, but it is still very interesting why they excrete this with this type of vibration.

For my end product I am making an installation where people can experience the vibrations that leafcutters make accompanied by the sound that it makes for us. It is literally going to be an experience how it is ‘to stand in someone else’s (in this case something else’s) shoes’. I will not tell you too much details yet; you can see the endresult in the last blogpost or at the exhibition 😉 I have still a lot of work to do in one week, but I hope and believe it’s going to pay off!

Furthermore, recently two new entomologists, or more specifically, myrmecologists, have arrived in Gamboa. Alissa and Stephanie are studying fungus-growing ants (but not the leafcutters) and they have taught me so much new stuff about ants! One time they took me ‘ant digging’, which was so cool and so much fun. I even got to dig up ‘my own’ colony and write my initials on the sampling cup. The species we dug up is Serciomyrmex Amabilis, a little fury fungus-growing ant. The cool thing is that some colonies are infiltrated by a certain type of ant, Megalomyrmex symmetochus. These ants are not fungus-farming ants, so they don’t help with caring for the garden and thus they are seen as parasites. Mega is a social parasite since it lives together with the host. Unfortunately for Sercio, they do eat from the garden and profit from it. At first instance this seems like parasitism (thus the name parasite as well), however, the parasites do protect the fungus by attacking other intruders. Alissa, Stephany and their research team say it may be a context-dependent mutualist since it also defends their host from other threats! Super interesting, right?

I have also starting to make two designs for the recycled plastic keychains that Kitty and Andy make and sell for the APPC. I really like the shape of the Cecropia leaves, which I see a lot around here because that’s what we get for Valencia the Taipir and the three-toeth sloths a lot, since it’s their favourite. Another design I made is, of course, of the leafcutter ant! I have spray painted them with some pretty colours and now they are almost ready to be sold! Actually I already sold my first (cecropia) design and I hope to sell more on the exhibition I am going to give at the end of my stay here 😊

Cool2 is also still in the game. We have been playing around more with Arduino and an LED strip. Slowly but steadily we are making progress and hopefully in one or two weeks we have a prototype to show and present! Besides our menstruation plant, Kitty taught Cool2 how to crochet. Kitty was an excellent teacher but crocheting is not my calling. It was nice, but I am a bit too restless for such detailed work. Serena loved it though and she made some really cool stuff, which you will probably see in one of her blogposts 😉

Serena organised a jungle crafting afternoon where we got to make something out of the materials that we found in the forest, to explain a (scientific) concept with. Although my thing didn’t fully work out as I wanted, I really did learn to get outside of my head. It was a super fun experience!

Lastly but not least, I did a bunch of fun stuff here with my amazing Gamboa friends. We went a drag contest in the city, we visited the Biomuseo, Team Dinalab (me, Serena, Andy & Kitty) had a nice beachday at Forte Sherman, we had our second ruin party, we played Capuchin Heights (Andy’s self-made Carcassonne), went on a few night hikes/walks and of course some good old sunset hangouts!

See you until my last blogpost of this series:

How to BE an amateur biologist’ 😎