Category Archives: Natural Life

Martin Crawford & His Forest Garden

Martin Crawford, a forest gardening pioneer, based in the UK, explains in a short film by Thomas Regnault, “What we think of as normal, in terms of food production is actually not normal at all. Annual plants are very rare in nature, yet most of our agricultural fields are filled with annual plants. It’s not normal. What’s normal is a more forested or semi-forested system.”

Crawford began his food forest in 1994 – on a flat field, now transformed into a beautiful, thriving garden with more than 500 edible plants. Incredibly, it takes care of itself with just a few hours of maintenance a month. ‘’They are managed, but managed lightly,’’ Crawford says. ‘’They are more like being out in nature than being in a cultivated garden.”

Fortunately, pioneers like Crawford and other enthusiasts have done all the research and are willing and able to share their knowledge to help you create your own sustainable food forest garden.

“It can seem overwhelming, there are so many species,” Crawford says. “You shouldn’t let that stop you from starting a project, because you don’t have to know everything to begin with. Just start, plants some trees, and go from there.”

Watch the film here, and visit the The Agroforestry Research Trust, of which Crawford is the founder and director.

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Asian Sea Nomads

These Asian Sea Nomads Are the First Known Humans to Have a Genetic Adaptation to Diving

I pride myself as a blue mind who loves the water with a strange obsession. Sadly, I can’t hold my breath underwater for up to a minute. The average healthy person who isn’t trained in static apnea can hold their breath for a maximum of two minutes underwater, with the added benefit of breathing in pure oxygen beforehand.

Now imagine a tribe of people, an ethnicity that is genetically adapted to survive underwater without oxygen for at least 13 minutes on an average. The Bajau Laut people of Southeast Asia are not specially trained in modern static apnea, but they’ve been discovered to have evolved physiologically and genetically, gaining new features that have basically turned them to human seals [1].

The diving reflex is a group of automatic responses that occur when the face of an air-breathing mammal is submerged into water. Your blood vessels constrict, your spleen contracts, and your heart rate slows in response to being low on oxygen. Your body will try to maximize its oxygen reserves until you can breathe in oxygen again. The splenic contraction is especially important as it releases red blood cells and increases the oxygen capacity of the blood.

Sea Gypsies

The Bajau people are a seafaring, nomadic, fishing clan who spend almost 60 percent of their life deep-diving underwater. A 2018 study published in the Journal Cell found that they may have evolved to have larger spleens, estimably 50 percent bigger than that of an average person [2]. This enables them to maintain the diving reflex for much longer while underwater. An enlarged spleen would mean a more sufficient red blood cell reservoir for deep-diving purposes. More red blood cells would mean that you would be able to carry more oxygen in your blood, allowing for longer dives. Essentially improving how efficient we are at utilizing the oxygen we breathe in. 

The Bajau are subsistent people found in the waters off Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, living in long houseboats known as lepas. They fish for their food and only come to the town to trade for other items or to seek shelter from storms. The Bajau have lived on the sea for many centuries and about 200 years ago, some populations began to settle on the shores, especially in and on the coasts of Malaysia [3].

They have several traditional methods of fishing, with diving being the most common. Using wooden goggles and hand weights, they swim as deep as 30 meters (100 feet) into the water to catch fish for survival. They also love to dive for a particular sea cucumber species known as trepang, with which local delicacies and soups are made.

The researchers found that members of the tribe who do not dive also have the genetic mutation of an enlarged spleen. They suspect that a particular gene known as PDE10A might be responsible for the mutation in the Bajau. PDE10A controls a thyroid hormone known as T4 which increases metabolic rates and combats low oxygen levels in times of distress. T4 has been linked to larger spleen sizes in mice. Also, mice that have been manipulated to have lower amounts of T4 would end up with smaller spleens.

“If there’s something going on at the genetic level, you should have a certain sized spleen. There we saw this hugely significant difference,” said Melissa Ilardo, lead scientist in the research at National Geographic.

There were other diving-specialized genes specialized discovered in the Bajau, performing several functions that wouldn’t be found even in people of other ethnicities close to the Bajau. When the diving response kicks in, one of these genes would cause blood to rush from the limbs and other non-essential parts to the heart and lungs. Another would prevent the occurrence of hypercapnia from extended periods spent underwater, a condition caused by elevated levels of carbon dioxide in the blood.

Other adaptations

There is another physiological adaptation suspected to be at play in the Bajau people. Richard Moon, a scientist from the Duke University School of medicine studies the body’s reaction to extreme depths and high altitudes. Deep diving causes blood to fill the vessels in the lungs and if they are ruptured, the victim could die in a matter of minutes. Moon believes that regular training and constant diving could cause the walls of the lungs to become stronger and more adapted to withstand high volumes of blood.

The lung chest wall could become more compliant. There could be some looseness that develops over your training. The diaphragm could become stretched. The abs could become more compliant. We don’t really know if those things occur,” he said to National Geographic [4]“The spleen is able to contract to some extent, but we don’t know of any direct connection between thyroid and spleen.”

This adaptation is found to be common in the Tibetans and the Bajau. The Tibetans live on the lofty plateaus in the Himalayas, a place called the “Roof of the World” because of its stunningly high altitudes. To live at such heights, the Tibetans also have some peculiar physical adaptations.

The future of hypoxia

Although they are countries away from each other, the researchers believe that the Tibetans and the Bajau may have suffered extensively from hypoxia in older generations. Hypoxia is a condition characterized by a deficiency of oxygen in the tissues to sustain bodily functions [5]. It is possible that the ancient members of these two ethnicities suffered so greatly from hypoxia that their genes mutated to enable them to cope with it. Modern-day Tibetans can now survive better at high altitudes and the Bajau can dive to extreme depths underwater.

There is hope for new knowledge on hypoxia management techniques from studying these clans, especially the Bajau.

According to Ilardo, marginalization, and segregation is making life exceptionally difficult for the Bajau in their native dwellings. They are not regarded as equals with the citizens of the countries in which they make their homes on seas and shores. Thousands of them have migrated from the seas due to increased industrial fishing by their host countries. She fears that they may be fully dispersed by the time scientists are ready to delve into researching their adaptations.

Source – TheHeartySoul

New Information from The Sun

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe made the closest ever flyby of the Sun in August 2018, collecting massive amounts of data using cutting-edge scientific instruments from a distance of 15 million miles — a mission that also, incidentally, set the record for the fastest-ever human-made object of all time.

Now, scientists are starting to release what they learned from the data it collected. Four new papers published in the journal Nature Wednesday reveal new findings that could rewrite the way we understand the way stars are born, evolve, and die. They could also help us find new ways to protect astronauts from harsh space weather during long distance trips through the Solar System.

“The complexity was mind-blowing when we first started looking at the data,” said Stuart Bale, lead researcher for the probe’s onboard instrument suite at the University of California, Berkeley. “Now, I’ve gotten used to it. But when I show colleagues for the first time, they’re just blown away.”

The most startling discovery the teams made was that magnetic fields emanating from our star seemed to unexpectedly flip back and forth, causing local disturbances — what scientists dubbed “switchbacks” — which can even cause them to point back at the Sun at times.

The cause of these switchbacks is still a mystery to scientists, but they could eventually allow us to understand how energy flows away from the Sun and throughout the Solar System.

“Waves have been seen in the solar wind from the start of the space age, and we assumed that closer to the Sun the waves would get stronger, but we were not expecting to see them organize into these coherent structured velocity spikes,” said Justin Kasper, principal investigator at the University of Michigan said in a statement.

The scientists also found that the Sun’s radiation vaporizes cosmic dust particles around itself, leaving a 3.5 million mile dust-free zone.

They also found that solar winds rotate around the Sun at speeds “nearly ten times larger than predicted by the standard models,” according to Kasper.

The mission also marks the first time that solar wind flows were observed still rotating around the Sun, rather than shooting off at a perpendicular velocity from the star — the kind of straight trajectories we observe from Earth.

“The Sun is the only star we can examine this closely,” Nicola Fox, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters, said in the statement. “Getting data at the source is already revolutionizing our understanding of our own star and stars across the universe. Our little spacecraft is soldiering through brutal conditions to send home startling and exciting revelations.”

The probe will be attempting to get even closer to the Sun during an encounter on January 29, 2020.

READ MORE: NASA probe ‘touches’ sun, discovers unexpected changes in solar wind [CNET]

More on the probe: Here’s the Closest Picture We’ve Ever Taken of the Sun

Building a Log Cabin under $500

What if we tell you that you could build a cozy log cabin for less than $500? Even if it sounds like science-fiction or at least some sort of scam, the structure you see in the photo respects both of the above-mentioned conditions. A man with no experience in construction took on the adventure of building his own home. He got some help from a group of young people and just 8 months later this 10 by 10 feet log cabin was complete. For the process a number of 52 logs were used as well as 9 patio stones (on which the floor was set) and 2by4s to make the support structure. If this wasn’t impressive enough, learn that the only tool put to use was a chainsaw, the rest was all done by hand! The result is quite satisfying. This example shows that you can have an inexpensive off-grid cabin in a rather short amount of time. Watch the video to see more details.

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What is Slime Mold?

A strange brand new organism is on display at the Parc Zoologique de Paris; a slimy, brainless organism nicknamed “Le Blob.” Le blob is not an animal, but a slime mold—it has no eyes, no ears, no mouth, and no limbs. But Le Blog is mobile, the organism can communicate, heal itself, and it has nearly 720 biological sexes. But what exactly is a slime mold? Slime molds like Le Blob are protists, belonging to the phylum amoebozoa, and within the world of slime molds there are two very different kinds: cellular slime molds and acellular slime molds. Cellular slime molds are tiny amoebas that require a microscope to see, but they can clump together into a slimy blob that acts as one whole superorganism. That’s why this kind of slime mold is sometimes called the social amoeba—they like to get together and hang out under the right conditions. But Le Blob is the other kind of slime mold, the acellular kind. Le Blob’s official name is Physarum polycephalum and the organism still starts out as an amoeba but eventually, as it continues to grow, the nuclei divide but the cell does not essentially forming one giant cell made up of many, many nuclei called a plasmodium. And Le Blob likes to move, like a lot. And the slime molds adventurous behavior is not the only thing that makes them special. Find out more about this peculiar new organism and all there is to learn from slime molds like Le Blob on this Elements. #LeBlob #SlimeMold #Organism #Paris #Zoo #Seeker #Science #Elements Read More: Slime Molds Remember — but Do They Learn?… “Most importantly, slime molds can be taught new tricks; depending on the species, they may not like caffeine, salt or strong light, but they can learn that no-go areas marked with these are not as bad as they seem, a process known as habituation.” Slime Molds: No Brains, No Feet, No Problem… “When ripped in half, the halves continue to grow independently and the nuclei in each half continue to divide and develop in sync. This makes the organism uniquely appealing to cancer drug research, said Jonatha Gott at Case Western University, because it provides researchers with multiple identical samples dividing at the same time.” Slime mould mashup models fiendish computing problem… “Enter the slime mould (Physarum polycephalum), already known to be able to solve simple mazes. The researchers, Jeff Jones and Andrew Adamatzky of the University of the West of England’s Centre for Unconventional Computing, decided to model the slime mould in a computer and see if its behaviour would provide a travelling salesman solution.” ____________________ Elements is more than just a science show. It’s your science-loving best friend, tasked with keeping you updated and interested on all the compelling, innovative and groundbreaking science happening all around us. Join our passionate hosts as they help break down and present fascinating science, from quarks to quantum theory and beyond. Seeker empowers the curious to understand the science shaping our world. We tell award-winning stories about the natural forces and groundbreaking innovations that impact our lives, our planet, and our universe. Visit the Seeker website Elements on Facebook Subscribe now!… Seeker on Twitter Seeker on Facebook Seeker

Avocado & Honey #72 Daddy Lessons

In this episode of #avocadoandhoneypod, I spoke with 3 black fathers about fatherhood. The fathers share their experience on when they first found out they were going to be a father, their definition of a man, preparing their child for the world and so much more! Please remember to like, follow and share! You are appreciated.

Click the image above to tune in to this episode!

Negative Air Ions and Their Effects on Human Health and Air Quality Improvement

Scientific Article written by Shu-Ye JiangAli Ma, and Srinivasan Ramachandran*Shu-Ye JiangAli Ma, and Srinivasan Ramachandran



Negative air ions (NAIs) have been discovered for more than 100 years and are widely used for air cleaning. Here, we have carried out a comprehensive reviewing on the effects of NAIs on humans/animals, and microorganisms, and plant development. The presence of NAIs is credited for increasing psychological health, productivity, and overall well-being but without consistent or reliable evidence in therapeutic effects and with controversy in anti-microorganisms. Reports also showed that NAIs could help people in relieving symptoms of allergies to dust, mold spores, and other allergens. Particulate matter (PM) is a major air pollutant that affects human health. Experimental data showed that NAIs could be used to high-efficiently remove PM. Finally, we have reviewed the plant-based NAI release system under the pulsed electric field (PEF) stimulation. This is a new NAI generation system which releases a huge amount of NAIs under the PEF treatment. The system may be used to freshen indoor air and reduce PM concentration in addition to enriching oxygen content and indoor decoration at home, school, hospital, airport, and other indoor areas.

Keywords: negative air ions, superoxide, particulate matter, pulsed electric field

1. Introduction

Negative air ions (NAIs) have been discovered for more than 100 years []. Now, NAI generators are widely available for home or industrial uses. In the meantime, various new technologies were developed and used to further improve NAI generation and reduce the release of its byproduct ozone. However, some controversial results or comments have been reported for the beneficial effect on humans/animals or on reductions in bacterial densities. Here, we have carried out a comprehensive reviewing on NAIs. On the other hand, strong evidence had shown the roles of NAIs in high-efficiently reducing particulate matter (PM) concentration. Thus, more work should be done to further improve NAI release by new methods or devices so that NAIs could be more widely used for air cleaning. Here, we review the generation of NAIs and their effects on humans, animals, and microorganisms. We then discussed the involvement of superoxide ions in biological effects of NAIs. Subsequently, we focused on plant-based NAI generation systems as these are relatively new NAI generation systems with some advantages on traditional corona discharge NAI generators. We also reviewed the air cleaning ability of NAIs, especially in removing PM with diameters less than 10 micrometers (PM10).

2. Systematic Review of Literatures

The systematic review of studies on NAIs initiated by literature searches. Three databases were selected including PubMed database (available online:, ScienceDirect database (available online:, and IEEE Xplore Digital Library (available online: The coverage period of the database search is around 100 years from 1918 to 2018 (the updated search date is 10 September 2018). Three keywords “negative”, “air”, and “ion” were used to search all collected articles in these databases. The database searches harvested a total of 335, 681, and 221 articles that contain all of the three keywords in either titles or abstracts when the PubMed database, ScienceDirect, and IEEE Xplore databases were employed, respectively. Only peer-reviewed and English-language articles were considered. We then screened these articles by manually reviewing titles, which led to 170, 279, and 117 studies selected (duplicated references were excluded); the remaining were excluded due to no relationship to the NAI topic. We further carried out abstract screening to exclude more unrelated articles. Based on the abstract reviewing, 93, 113, and 57 references were selected, which were subjected to full-length reviewing. During full-length article reviewing, some cited references, which were not included in the full-length review list, were also selected for additional reviewing.

3. Negative Air Ions and Their Generation

Air ions are electrically charged molecules or atoms in the atmosphere []. An air ion is formed when a gaseous molecule or atom receives sufficiently high energy to eject an electron []. NAIs are those that gain an electron, while positive air ions lose an electron. The natural and artificial energy sources include (1) radiant or cosmic rays in the atmosphere; (2) sunlight including ultraviolet; (3) natural and artificial corona discharge including thunder and lightning; (4) the shearing forces of water (Lenard effect); (5) plant-based sources of energy.

3.1. Radiant or Cosmic Rays in the Atmosphere

The radioactive elements such as uranium, radium, actinium, and thorium widely exist in our planet. They decay in the atmosphere and emit α, β, and/or γ rays, which ionize the air. Thus, radiant and cosmic ray ionization is ubiquitous in the Earth’s atmosphere. The cosmic ray ionization accounts for around 20% of the total ionization over land surfaces []. They are also the principal energy sources that generate NAIs over the oceans []. The concentration of NAIs produced by these rays might reach from 500 ions per cm3 in land surface [] to more than 1000 ions per cm3 at 15 km away from the land surface [].

3.2. Sunlight Including Ultraviolet

The photoelectric effect is the emission of electrons when a certain wavelength of light is shone onto a metallic surface. NAIs are generated by accepting these emitted electrons. The photoelectric effect may contribute less to the NAI generation as only some wavelength of lights shows the ability to emit electrons by lighting. One of the examples is the negative ion generator using an ultraviolet source to irradiate electrically conductive material, which was patented as early as 1964 (Patent No. US 3128378 A). In this patent, an ultraviolet lamp was used to irradiate metal materials, which photo-electrically eject electrons. The electrons then collide with air molecules and generate NAIs.

On the other hand, NAIs can be generated by a certain wavelength of lights through directly ionizing air molecules. For example, ultraviolet (UV) can be used to directly ionize air molecules to generate NAIs [,]. Actually, UV-mediated ionization is the dominant NAI sources in the above 60 km altitude of atmosphere []. These highly concentrated NAIs from UV in the upper layers of the atmosphere are diffused to the ground surface at low speeds. Ionization by UV radiation is not a major contributor of NAIs in the lower atmosphere due to the low dose of UV rays available in this layer []. Although reports showed that the UV rays significantly mediated the air ionization, little systematical study was carried out on the effect of artificial UV light on NAI generation. We carried out an experiment to investigate the contribution of UV light to the generation of NAIs (Figure 1Table S1). The experiment was carried out in a growth chamber with 80 cm length × 80 cm width × 80 cm height and detailed description was provided in the Supplementary Experiment. NAIs were measured under UV light conditions with the normal light condition as a control. The data from three replicates of experiments showed that UV lights indeed promoted the NAI generation. In the chamber, the average NAI concentration was 344 ions/cm3 within one hour. The NAI concentration was increased to 825 ions/cm3 under UV light condition, significantly higher than the control (Figure 1A). Further observation showed that there were peaks of NAI generation within 8 min after UV lighting (Figure 1B–D; Table S1). After the peaks, NAI concentration was kept at a relatively stable value but was still higher than the control. For all three replicates or each replicate, a nonparametric two-tailed Mann–Whitney U test was carried out as described in the Supplementary Experiment and the statistical analysis showed that NAI concentrations under UV lighting conditions in all three replicates were significantly higher than those under normal lighting conditions (CK) with p < 0.00001. The analysis further confirmed the promoting effect of UV lighting on NAI generation. Thus, our experiment showed that UV lighting could be used to generate NAIs. However, only low concentrations of NAIs were generated under our UV light conditions.

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NAI generation by UV lighting. The experiment was carried out in a growth chamber with dimensions of 80 cm length, 80 cm width and 80 cm height. A 30 watts of UV light (UV-C, 100–280 nm) was provided by Safer Electric Ltd., Singapore. NAI concentration was measured by the DLY-4G-232 air ion counter (Kilter Electronic Institute Co., Ltd., Zhangzhou, Fujian Province, China). (A) The average NAI concentrations of control (CK, no UV light) and UV lighting. The NAI concentration under UV light was significantly higher than the control as indicated by Mann–Whitney U test at p < 0.00001. (BD) Graphs to show the curves of NAI concentrations among three different replicates. The star “*” indicated that the NAI concentration under UV lighting was statistically higher than that in CK by Mann–Whitney U test at p < 0.00001. NAI: negative air ions.

3.3. Natural and Artificial Corona Discharge Including Thunderstorms and Lightning

The atmosphere surrounding the earth is subjected to a natural electric field and its intensity is continuously fluctuating under both local and global influences []. The local influences include geographical location and weather conditions such as thunderstorms, rain, fog, mist, and so on; the global facts refer to classical daily electric field variations []. When leaf points or branches of trees have a high potential difference from their surroundings in their electric fields, corona discharge (also called point discharge) occurs and NAIs may be released [,]. Generally, corona discharge occurs at the atmosphere conditions under high average electric fields []. For example, in a mountain area, high electric fields and low atmospheric pressure promote the onset of corona discharge []. Thunderstorms and lightning will generate very high electric field conditions and corona discharge subsequently occurs. Therefore, NAIs will be released at a huge amount after thunderstorms and lightning. However, released NAIs will be gradually decayed with the discontinuous thunderstorms. In addition to thunderstorms and lightning, mist may also contribute to NAI generation. In a forest, electric field variations were observed during the mist formation and dissipation, which may trigger corona discharge and NAI generation [].

Artificial corona discharge is an efficient way to generate NAIs. When a high negative voltage is applied to a conductor/electrode and generated electric field is high enough, corona discharge occurred [,]. If a charged conductor/electrode has a needle-type with a sharp point, the electric field around the tip will be significantly higher than other parts and air near the electrode can become ionized and NAIs are generated []. Intensity of corona discharge depends on the shape and size of the conductors as well as applied voltage. Irregular conductor, especially with a sharp point, gives rise to more corona than a smooth conductor and large-diameter conductors produce lower corona than small-diameter conductors; the higher the voltage applied, more NAIs are generated [,]. The closer the distance to corona point, the higher NAI concentration is detected as continuous generation of NAIs by corona discharge is related to a chain reaction process called an electron avalanche []. The application of artificial electric field and corona discharge on plants was carried out as early as the 1960s [,]. Bachman and Hademenos (1971) showed that under high voltage, artificially applied electrical fields near the pointed barley leaf tips were intensified [] and as a result, corona discharge occurred and air ions and ozone were generated. Studies mainly focused on biological effects such as growth response, evaporation, and plant damage as well as the effects of generated ozone and NAIs on plant growth [,,,,,].

3.4. The Shearing Forces of Water (Lenard Effect)

The considerable numbers of NAIs are found under waterfalls or in the seashores. These NAIs are generated by Lenard effect. Lenard effect was also called spray electrification or waterfall effect and was first systematically studied by Philipp Lenard [], who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1905 for his research on cathode rays and the discovery of many of their properties. The study showed that NAIs were generated from the surrounding air molecules by charging themselves negatively when water droplets collide with each other or with a wetted solid to form fine spray of drops. The study also showed that several factors may affect the degree of charge separation in spray processes and, therefore, may affect the generation and concentration of NAIs. These factors include water drop temperature, dissolved impurities, speed of the impinging air blast, and foreign impinging surfaces of droplets. Based on the “Lenard effect”, water shearing appliance has been designed to generate NAIs []. Water shearing produced only superoxide ions (O2) which was bound to clusters of water molecules to form the structure O2(H2O)n [], and was essentially regarded as a natural source of NAIs []. NAIs generated by the “Lenard effect” might improve erythrocyte deformability, thereby aerobic metabolism [].

Read the full scientific article at NCBI 

The Practical Periodic Table

The ability to name all of the elements on the periodic table from actinium to zinc is an impressive feat. Actually being able to explain how each element functions in the real world is a little more challenging. If you agree that learning the everyday relevance of all the Earth’s elements is just as important as memorizing their symbols, check out the chart above. This graphic, spotted by inhabitat, presents the information found in a traditional periodic table with pictographs and labels indicating where you might encounter each element in your life.

“The Periodic Table of Elements, in Pictures and Words” was created by Boeing software engineer Keith Enevoldsen. He frames the design as a tool for teaching students in elementary through high school, but it can also be used by adults looking to polish their rusty knowledge from chemistry class. The uses of some elements are widely known: Sodium, for instance, is paired with a picture of a salt shaker, while neon is illustrated with an illuminated advertising sign. Others, though, aren’t so obvious: Did you know that strontium is used in fireworks, or that boron can be found in sports equipment? What about scandium in bicycles, or tantalum in cell phones? There’s a helpful illustration accompanying each element found in nature.

Section of a periodic table of elements with pictures.

Section of a periodic table of elements with pictures.

Enevoldsen’s table can also be used to study other facts, like each element’s atomic number and material state (solid, liquid, or gas). The educational resource is available as a set of print-out flashcards and as a full-sized poster available on Amazon for $10.

Bamboo Transcends the Tropics for Carbon-Negative Construction

It can be argued either way: Bamboo is a building material that’s criminally underused in construction or one destined to remain a quirky, regional curio.

Long ignored beyond the developing world, bamboo (a grass, not a tree) has the compressive strength of concrete and the tensile strength of steel. Unlike those materials, it sequesters carbon as it grows instead of emitting it while it’s made. It replenishes rapidly, shooting up by as much as three feet per week. It’s hollow and lightweight. “There’s no wood that can compete with that,” says Joana Gomes of the Mexican architecture firm CO-LAB, which recently designed Luum Temple, a bamboo pavilion in Tulum, Mexico.

Beyond bamboo’s geographic specificity (it grows mostly in Central and South America and Asia), its irregular shape, thickness, and segment lengths make it difficult to mill and join together. Bamboo pieces don’t fit together neatly, which introduces challenges when creating insulated wall assemblies, a necessity outside of tropical climes.

But designers are tackling these constraints, working on systems to make bamboo behave more like wood yet still express the plant’s aesthetic properties, like its graceful segmented rhythms and aggregated textures. Harnessing bamboo’s negative carbon footprint is one way the building industry could blunt the impact of climate change, which affects the tropical developing nations where it grows. “We’re just starting to understand the potential of bamboo,” Gomes says.

Bamboo is powerfully linked to specific places and contexts: Looking at a bamboo structure, one is reminded of the roar of a rainforest downpour or flashes of tropical birds on the horizon. Bamboo can evoke reverence for faraway places, as when applied to luxury hospitality projects. But this specificity also typecasts the material less favorably. “Bamboo is associated either with lowbrow informal architecture in Asia or Central America or kitsch vacation tropes, like Gilligan’s Island,” says Katie MacDonald, an architecture professor at the University of Tennessee Knoxville who’s researching bamboo.

“To truly broaden the possibilities with bamboo, we need new and dynamic joinery systems that allow for the varying poles to be connected to each other efficiently, accommodating their irregularity,” says Elora Hardy, founder of Ibuku, a Bali-based architecture firm that specializes in bamboo, designing projects such as the stunning Bambu Indah resort using Autodesk AutoCAD.

bamboo construction Bambu Indah resort bali
Ibuku designed Moon House, a highlight of the Bambu Indah sustainable luxury resort near Bali, Indonesia. Courtesy of Alina Vlasova.

Architects have heeded this call. The American Institute of Architects gave a $30,000 Upjohn research grant to MacDonald, fellow University of Tennessee Knoxville professor Kyle Schumann, and Virginia Tech’s Jonas Hauptman to design a bamboo fabrication system promising extreme versatility in joining bamboo together. Using bamboo variants that are more solid than hollow, the team can cut lengthwise rectilinear sections. “What that allows us to do is mill flat pieces so it looks more like a timber slab,” Schumann says.

Schumann and his research partners have designed a prototype milling machine that’s similar in size to an antiquated microwave, with holes at either end where bamboo poles slide in. These poles are secured with a chuck that closes around the bamboo, “sort of like a camera aperture,” Schumann says. The machine manipulates the pole across four axes, first scanning it to map the material, then cutting it with a CNC mill into any shape. “You can subtract any geometry that you can design within the thickness of the material,” MacDonald says.

The team’s ultimate vision is a self-contained, field-operable box that could parametrically design assemblies and joinery methods on the fly, then fabricate and build them. “Whereas most digital fabrication technology is high cost and requires economies of scale, this project seeks to develop an affordable DIY machine that can leverage technology to make use of the irregularity of bamboo,” MacDonald explains. With this versatility, balloon framing of smaller buildings would seem an intuitive use. In its most pared-down version—perhaps most useful for the emerging markets where bamboo grows—the machine would offer a preset menu of joints that users can select.

bamboo construction prototype milling machine
A prototype bamboo milling machine designed by Kyle Schumann’s team. Courtesy of Virginia Tech.

The University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech team (which used Autodesk Fusion 360 to plan parametric tool paths and model the machine prototype) is also researching structural bamboo wall panels, similar to cross-laminated timber. The team is investigating filling the gaps between milled planks of round bamboo with insulation; one approach is to let mycelium (mushrooms fungus) clog these gaps.

“The panelized system is about creating a more standardized geometry out of bamboo,” MacDonald says, “whereas the CNC system is about creating an affordable system for custom geometries.”

bamboo construction detail of joint
Detail of joined milled bamboo slabs. Courtesy of Virginia Tech.

CO-LAB worked with bamboo that was cut into rectilinear strips but used more traditional joinery methods. Luum Temple is a centerpiece of the firm’s Luum Zama residential development, luxury real estate that sits lightly on the land and preserves much of the surrounding southern Mexican jungle. An open-air pavilion that can be reached only by foot, Luum Temple is meant to be a place for quiet meditation.

The pavilion is a monumental object and work of sculpture in its own right, coalescing around five 18-foot cantilevering catenary arches—shapes made possible by bamboo’s elastic qualities. CO-LAB and builder Arquitectura Mixta cut long sections of immature, extra-pliable bamboo and bent them into shape, joining the links with aluminum straps every few feet.

Gomes wanted to build the pavilion with a structural system that was compatible with the catenary arches. Guided by a parametric design process, CO-LAB designed the triangular motif repeated throughout the structure, giving it a strong sense of rhythmic articulation. In this peaceful space, the geometric pattern warped across catenary arcs reaches out into the jungle in rich, tactile layers, appearing to be woven from fabric rather than constructed as a building. Gomes had planned to make the pavilion out of wood, but proximity of bamboo farms and experienced builders changed that. “It created an entirely new spectrum of possibilities for us,” she says.

bamboo construction assembling the luum temple
Assembling Luum Temple. Courtesy of CO-LAB.

Another bamboo-centric project, the Sombra Verde pavilion, was designed by Carlos Bañón and Felix Raspall, architecture professors at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, and puts its fabrication technology credentials upfront. The duo (who practice as AIRLAB) designed the pavilion for Singapore’s 2018 Urban Design Festival.

Read the full article at AutoDesk

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