A Twinkling Christmas Tree, Powered by…an Electric Eel?
If you were to walk into the Living Planet Aquarium today in Sandy, Utah, and meander through the “Journey to South America” gallery–past 10-foot anacondas, piranha and caiman alligators–you’d meet Sparky. The nearly four-foot-long electric eel draws a crowd, particularly in December, when it causes the lights on a nearby Christmas tree to twinkle.
That’s right: twinkle.
Electric eels have to navigate the dark, murky streams and ponds where they live in South America. (Or, in Sparky’s case, his large tank.) The slender, snake-like fish have tiny eyes that are not very effective in low-light conditions. So, to wayfind, electric eels, true to their name, rely on their electric organs. These organs contain about 6,000 cells, called electrocytes, that stow power much like batteries do. Eels emit that power through low- and high-voltage charges when circumstances call for it.
“They will use their electricity similar to how a dolphin would use sonar or a bat would use radar,” says Andy Allison, curator of animals at the Living Planet Aquarium, a facility about 20 miles south of Salt Lake City. “He [Sparky] will put out little shocks whenever he is moving, real low-voltage type things, just enough so that it can help sense his environment.” For its Christmas display, the aquarium takes advantage of the little pulses of electricity that Sparky sends out as he swims. “Also, when he is hungry or senses food in the area, or angry, he will send out a big shock to stun prey or to stun a predator,” says Allison. These large shocks can measure up to 600 volts.
So how does the twinkling Christmas tree work?
About three years ago, Bill Carnell, an electrician with Cache Valley Electric, in Salt Lake City, found a really interesting video on YouTube produced by the Moody Institute of Science in the 1950s. In it, a scientist demonstrates how an electric eel can power a panel of light bulbs. Inspired, he began experimenting with Sparky. Carnell connected a standard 120-volt light bulb to electrodes, which he dunked into Sparky’s tank. The light bulb did not turn on. He tried a string of Christmas lights. Again, no results. So, he tried a strand of specialized, very low-voltage lights, and he finally got some flickering.
Carnell and his colleagues installed two stainless steel electrodes, one on each side of Sparky’s tank. These electrodes collect the voltage the electric eel emits to then power a sequencer. “The sequencer takes the voltage the eel produces and operates circuitry that flashes the lights, fast or slow, based on the level of voltage he puts out,” says Terry Smith, project manager at Cache Valley Electric, in a press release.
The five-foot-tall tree, which stands just next to Sparky’s tank, is decorated with four strands of lights. While the eel does not power the lights, he does control the way the strands flicker. “As he shocks, one strand shuts off and another strand turns on,” says Allison.
Of course, when Sparky is calm and resting on the bottom of his tank, the lights on the nearby tree are pretty constant. “But when it is moving, it is boom, boom, bo-boom, boom, boom,” says Allison. Electric eels are capable of multiple shocks a second.
Read the full article at: smithsonianmag.com
Latest News from our Front Page
Gunman Storms Dutch TV Station Demanding Airtime
Dutch authorities have released few details about the bizarre case of 19-year-old Tarik Zahzah’s attack on the main news studio of television station NOS on Thursday. To get the obvious question out of the way first, the police say there is no evidence that Zahzah, who is half-Egyptian, acted on behalf of organized terrorism.
The authorities always say that on the ...
How Alan Dershowitz bullied rape victims to protect a serial child molester
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz always felt children were fair game for Israeli missiles. Now the question is whether he thinks they are fair game for the sexual exploits of his powerful associates and himself.
Dershowitz and the UK’s Prince Andrew were accused in a recent court filing of raping a teenage girl who was forced into sexual slavery by ...
This past week, the world's preeminent vultures, the economic power elite, met in Davos to discuss the maintenance of their global fiat hegemony. Highlights included furthering austerity, noting that the serf class can't have air conditioning and cars, as well as cheering on the death of privacy through the rise of technocracy. The degenerate elite, completely out of touch with ...
Men must prove a woman said ’Yes’ under tough new rape rules
New guidance will be issued to all police forces and prosecutors as part of a ’toolkit’ to move rape investigations into the 21st century
Men accused of date rape will need to convince police that a woman consented to sex as part of a major change in the way sex offences are investigated.
The Director of Public Prosecutions said it was ...
4 beheaded in Saudi Arabia less than a week into King Salman's rule
Comment: So when will the the "Human rights" promoting liberal west elite decide invade Saudi Arabia like they did Libya?
Members of Magic Movement stage a mock execution scene in protest of Saudi Arabia beheading of eight Bangladeshi workers in October 2011.
Four people have been executed in Saudi Arabia less than a week after 79-year-old King Salman assumed power following the ...
|More News » |