Instructables

The Light Fountain: a Bioluminescent Hourglass

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Imagine having a lamp that requires no energy and turns off on its own. Also imagine having a pet that won't die without your constant supervision. These come together in the bioluminescent hourglass!

Bioluminescence is the ability of organisms to emit light, and has independently evolved in several different species. In the Bioluminescence Community Project at BioCurious, we've been working with a number of bioluminescent organisms, including tiny, single-celled creatures called dinoflagellates that live in the ocean are responsible for the phenomenon of glowing waves.

Dinoflagellates are a type of algae that will light up at night when they are being perturbed. Here, we give them a nice gentle stimulation to get them to glow, by running them through an hourglass

You can order dinoflagellates online at one of the links listed here.
 
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Step 1: Prototype

Picture of Prototype
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Materials:

- 2 plastic bottles, with screw caps
- glue
- thin plastic tubing, such as the ink tube from a ballpoint pen, or tip of a narrow plastic syringe

Tools:

- drill (or hand-driven drill bits)
- knife

Rescue some plastic bottles with screw caps from the recycling bin and rinse them thoroughly.

Glue two screw caps back-to-back (we used hot glue, which is probably not the best choice, but has held up so far). Now you can poke a hole through both caps... which doesn't work terribly well. It turns out that if you only poke a single hole, you have to make it fairly large, because as the liquid wants to drip down, the air in the bottom bottle wants to go up, so if you poke a small-ish hole, surface tension will stop the whole thing from working!

We found out that it is much more effective to drill or poke two holes through the caps, and glue in place two little tubes, one pointing up, the other pointing down. That way there is a separate rout for fluid to drop down, and air to bubble up.

You may need to slice the tubes at an angle to prevent surface tension from stopping the flow of drops. We used the ink tube from an empty Bic pen first, which worked but did not give a very reliable stream. Searching around for some other plastic tubes to use, we stumbled upon a box of very narrow plastic syringes in the lab. The tip of those syringes proved perfect for our purposes (see picture). Have a look around! You might stumble across something that works just as well - maybe the dispenser tip of a tube of superglue?

Fill up one of the bottles with your liquid of choice (for demonstration purposes, we used water with some green food coloring). Screw on the double cap, and screw the empty bottle on top of that. Invert and watch the show...

This prototype, with the syringe tips, took about 9 minutes to empty, and ran very reliably.
mrg02d9 months ago
Lightbulb terrarium
codegamc11 months ago
this is cool
i watched the ocean all night long and had to go play in it bioluminessent show was the coolest yhing ever and when playing in it the water it reminded me of Avatar how everything glows
would running the dinoflagellate solution through a pump be harmful?
Does anyone know of a UK source for the Dinos?
evilution1 year ago
What a great instructable, it's a shame they need monthly maintenance so you can't really give them as presents. I'd probably just fill it full of tonic water and light the bases with UV LEDs.
Patrik (author)  evilution1 year ago
They don't really *need* monthly maintenance though. And the maintenance is pretty simple: get some salt water from an aquarium store and add a few drops of plant fertilizer. I'd say they make as good a present as cut flowers, or even a potted plant.

I had a bottle of these sitting on my nightstand for a long time. Unfortunately, they don't tolerate heat very well, and our apartment doesn't have AC, so they didn't make it through some of the hottest summer days.
This is so awesome! Thank you so much for sharing. I love this type of thing and plan on making one soon!
Top Notch Instructable. I can't wait to try this!
cyprian9161 year ago
How bright are they how many lumens
canida1 year ago
I love this! Living fluorescence is amazing, and you've done a great job making your dinoflagellates a unique home.
Patrik (author)  canida1 year ago
Thanks! The dinos look even better in person - they are a pain to photograph, and even harder to video. We could really use one of those EOS Rebel T3i from the Make it Glow contest :-D
sleepydog1 year ago
Do you need to feed the algae or can it survive on natural light? What is the lifespan of the living component on this project?
Patrik (author)  sleepydog1 year ago
The dinoflagellates photosynthesize, and they grow very slowly. Ideally, you should start a new batch with fresh growth medium every 4-5 weeks or so, but we've had cultures going for months without too much trouble. At that point, contamination with cyanobacteria (aka "blue-green algae") becomes more of an issue.

The growth medium is simply salt water, plus a tiny amount of additional nutrients. You can buy a bottle of the official nutrient mix, or you can actually use some plant fertilizers with more or less the same effect.

We handed out 250 vials of dinoflagellates at the last Maker Faire (not sure how many of them survived getting carried around all weekend though), and we put together a little "care and feeding" page for them: http://tinyurl.com/MyPetDinos
aevans151 year ago
What an awesome, creative project!
Wow! wonderful hour -glass.