Biomakespace Forum

Build a plantarium with Biomakespace!

(Matt) #1


I think Biomakespace could be even more exciting, with the inclusion of some self - contained biospheres, a.k.a plantariums, bottle gardens or terrariums.

I’m hoping to hold a workshop or two where we can learn about some suitable plants and upcycle some glassware from the lab or elsewhere into some exciting new living decorations for the space.

A big challenge is that there is no natural light in Biomakespace labs, meaning this project is ideal for electronics whizzes and budding botanists trip collaborate.

Please post on here if you have any interest in getting involved in anyway. I’ll post updates when I can and set a date when we have a critical mass and enough ideas /resources to make it work.

I’d really love to do this a couple of weeks before the science festival at the end of March as it could be great for the visitors to see, so we haven’t got long.

So far we’ve had the idea of planting succulents and cacti, but there’s room for experimentation. You’re welcome to take your creations home and until we have some LEDs to keep them alive.

Bonus idea: if any experienced hackers think it would be feasible for the biospheres to beep, flash or even tweet when they were out of battery, or if water was low then get in touch. It would be cool to add some Biomakespace flora to the Internet of Living Things.

Example plantarium:
It would be great to hear from anyone with interesting disused glassware they’d like to donate or see upcycled into attractive biospheres.

(Matt) #2

An igem project from a couple of years ago has some great ideas and info on building a growth chamber for bryophytes, we might be able to adapt this into a light source set up for whatever glassware we can get our hands on:

An additional walk through to using the same LEDs used in the igem project for a small growth light housing:

I’ve found a further example of a neat set up to grow some moss based plantariums, mainly just posting this for aesthetics!

(Matt) #3

There’s a handy LED guide about adafruit neopixels here:

thanks Cambridge iGEM 2014!!

(Pavan Keerthi) #4

@mj365 - Interesting Project. Happy to give a go at electronics for this.

(Matt) #5

Hey, thanks for your interest pavankeerthi,

I’m away this weekend but might have some time on Saturday 10th March. Are you available anytime on that day to meet at Biomakespace?

Anyone else free that day?

I’ve got an arduino uno, a basic breadboard kit a power supply and a USB-arduino cable…

Oh and an adafruit neopixel:
We’re in need of a soldering iron and some solder and a sensible electronics plan to make three or four separate plantariums.

I’ve got some smaller/single led neopixels ordered for some jamjar grow tests.

Might look into something smaller to replace the arduino as I’ve seen some smaller control boards.

(Pavan Keerthi) #6

Hi Matt,

I have some plans up in the air to go away for next weekend.But I am going to be in makespace this saturday for science makers event.

I have couple of Raspberry pi zero w’s and other some other usb size microcontrollers. I am a member of makespace so I have access to LEDs and soldering kit. We can also use the facility for laser cut and other things.

I am not an expert in electronics but blinking LED’s is the canonical “hello world” example of electronics so should be straight forward.

(Matt) #7

Seems my link was broken, hope this one works?

It’s my ‘Hello World’!

Yeah, I guess a day/night light cycle is just a really really slow blink, haha!

It would be neat to figure out how to run multiple grow lights from one controller.

Soldering experience would be a big help thanks for offering! Currently, next weekend is looking like the best slot for me, but I’ll focus on getting the plant/‘gardening’ bits together for that session. Perhaps I could meet you at make space one evening on the week commencing 12th March to solder up any circuits we’ve assembled/designed and debug any that aren’t successful?

Let me know if that works for you! And if there is a weeknight that’s better than others?

(Pavan Keerthi) #8


Link works now. Looks great!

Your plan sounds good.Let’s plan a date to meet at makespace

(Matt) #9

What evenings are you free on the week commencing 12th March?

(Pavan Keerthi) #10

Hi matt,

I should be free Tue/Wed/Thu for W/C 12th Mar. However, I signed up (tentative) to come to space on 10th Mar.

(Matt) #11

How about Wednesday 14th to meet at make space. Do you have complete and fully portable Soldering kit? We could solder at. Biomakespace but the hardware lab isn’t finished and we might be pushed for space as it is, so makespace might be best if you don’t mind committing to one - two sessions? Its fine if you can just do one.

(Tony Naggs) #12

Soldering at Biomakespace is a bad idea unless you clear it with Roger. We need benches in the dry lab (~workshop), and the door ventillation to be installed. More importantly the flux in the solder makes a small amount of smoke, and I am not sure we yet have the smoke detector in that room replaced with a thermal sensor - we want to avoid falsely tripping the fire alarm for the building complex!

(Matt) #13

Hi Tony,

Thanks so much for clarifying! I was planning to seek further approval but I’m really glad you nipped this in the bud! I’m definitely keen to do things safely, and in light of that I will do a risk assessment for the plantarium project tonight!

If Pavan can make it, we’ll do the Soldering at makespace in town on a separate date, hopefully that will contain the safety issues you mention.

We may be able to repeat/extend the workshop at a later date when the hardware space is fully kitted out for soldering.

Thanks again for chipping!

(Matt) #14

Hi Pavan, what time would work on Wednesday 14th March? 7pm? Would it be OK to invite one or two from the workshop to join if they want to? I understand if there is a guest limitat makespace or you want to keep things simple.

(Matt) #15

Just an update on the plantarium workshop.

Thanks to everyone that came. We had a busy day doing both ‘wet lab’ - planting seeds and succulents in glass containers, and ‘dry lab’ - getting to grips with the arduino IDE, and talking about the principles of programming and how programmable LEDs could be adapted for growing plants with electronic lights.

For those that weren’t there, I had some technical issues on the day, which I have now resolved. Here are a couple of things I learned in troubleshooting my Neopixel Jewels:

  1. There is a an arduino function library specific for Neopixel products that you need to install before you can run the example scripts given online for these devices. This is found in Sketch>Include Library>Manage Libraries (choose Adafruit Neopixel, and ignore anything not named as such).

  2. Check your start up parameters:
    Although I thought my Neopixel was misbehaving at the workshop, I realised I had changed a parameter which controls how many of the 7 pixels are illuminated, and altered the brightness when I was testing it before the workshop and had simply forgotten. It was very quick to reset this.

  3. There is some example code called ‘strandtest’ available from the manufacturer, which not only tests a range of animations across the pixels but is also a great place to start for copying and pasting some functions into a sequence of your own design. You can look in:

to find this, if you can’t see it, just download a copy of the Adafruit Neopixel library and unzip it to find the examples folder. Its in “strandtest>strandtest.ino”. This is available by clicking the green button in the middle of this page

I’ve modified this code to produce a simple red, green, blue, white start up test, followed by a ‘night’ (all pixels off’, then a ‘day’ - all pixels on, then another 'night.

Currently, what I understand to be the ‘time’ parameter - fourth number after three colour values, is set to 1000, but the intervals are approximately 14 seconds long. I’m not sure why this is, though the jewel has 7 pixels and 14 is a multiple of 7, which could be a clue (i.e. this sets the time per pixel).

I’ve started looking into arduino libraries that control time/date to schedule a long term day/night cycle, but I haven’t got my head around it all and found a simple solution to our problem.

  1. There is some recommendation in the strand test to add a 300-500ohm resistor and a 1000uF (microFarad) capacitor into the circuit to protect the neopixel from burning out. This might be a wise addition if we plan to run them long term.

Please see the code and some photos of our plantariums below!

here’s the code so far:

#include <Adafruit_NeoPixel.h>
#ifdef AVR
#include <avr/power.h>

#define PIN 6

// Parameter 1 = number of pixels in strip
// Parameter 2 = Arduino pin number (most are valid)
// Parameter 3 = pixel type flags, add together as needed:
// NEO_KHZ800 800 KHz bitstream (most NeoPixel products w/WS2812 LEDs)
// NEO_KHZ400 400 KHz (classic ‘v1’ (not v2) FLORA pixels, WS2811 drivers)
// NEO_GRB Pixels are wired for GRB bitstream (most NeoPixel products)
// NEO_RGB Pixels are wired for RGB bitstream (v1 FLORA pixels, not v2)
// NEO_RGBW Pixels are wired for RGBW bitstream (NeoPixel RGBW products)
Adafruit_NeoPixel strip = Adafruit_NeoPixel(60, PIN, NEO_GRB + NEO_KHZ800);

// IMPORTANT: To reduce NeoPixel burnout risk, add 1000 uF capacitor across
// pixel power leads, add 300 - 500 Ohm resistor on first pixel’s data input
// and minimize distance between Arduino and first pixel. Avoid connecting
// on a live circuit…if you must, connect GND first.

void setup() {
strip.begin();; // Initialize all pixels to ‘off’

void loop() {
// Some example procedures showing how to display to the pixels:
colorWipe(strip.Color(255/4, 0, 0), 5); // Red
colorWipe(strip.Color(0, 255/4, 0), 5); // Green
colorWipe(strip.Color(0, 0, 255/4), 5); // Blue

colorWipe(strip.Color(255/4, 255/4, 255/4, 0), 1000); // White RGBW
colorWipe(strip.Color(0, 0, 0, 0), 1000); // Night
colorWipe(strip.Color(255/4, 255/4, 255/4, 0), 1000); // Day
colorWipe(strip.Color(0, 0, 0, 0), 1000); // Night


// Fill the dots one after the other with a color
void colorWipe(uint32_t c, uint8_t wait) {
for(uint16_t i=0; i<strip.numPixels(); i++) {
strip.setPixelColor(i, c);;


(Yuki) #16

Here are my plants.
Started watering slightly late.

(Pavan Keerthi) #17

So, Finally after a lot of reading, I managed to light my LED using Raspberry Pi.Wow these things are really bright.

(Pavan Keerthi) #18

As for the terrarium, the water cycle is working perfectly when the terrarium was sealed (i.e. nice condensation in evenings but still water at the bottom gravel). Charcol is doing its job too. However, some fungi started to appear around the cactus, so I left it open for one day. I am beginning to think we should have used specialised soil for planting cactus and used ordinary soil for those seeds.Let’s see how it fares this weekend.

(Pavan Keerthi) #19

And now Soil sensor to detect water is also ready.

(Matt) #20

Brilliant snaps, thanks Yuki! What is the one that looks like grass? Is that some of the moss?

Is the white stuff cress germinating?