My project partner, Melissa Clarke, and I are planning to create a vivarium (an enclosed or semi-enclosed container for plants and animals) as well as a sensor kit for monitoring changes in an interior environment before, during and after the vivarium is introduced into the space.  The sensors will also be used to monitor the biosphere of the vivarium.  We want to use sensors that monitor air quality, dust, temperature, and humidity. Check out Melissa’s blog for details on sensors and design drawings.

I was inspired to switch from a terrarium to a vivarium after observing leaf-cutting ants on display at the New York Hall of Science.  I was out there recently for the Maker Faire event and this display caught my attention because I observed adults who were totally entranced by the little ants carrying leaf bits that were at least four-times their size.  Watching the little creatures working so hard yet seemingly nonchalantly was fascinating.  I know, I’m anthropomorphizing the ants, I can’t help it.  I know others will do that as well, so introducing little creatures into a terrarium should dramatically increase complexity and interest and encourage other people to create their own vivariums.

I’m in the process of researching what creatures we should work with.  Crickets are an obvious choice, which reminds me of fellow ITP student Jill Haefele’s Living Headphones project.  I’m more intrigued though by hermit crabs and stick insects, both of which moult.

Hermit crabs are ironically social, so we’ll have to get a bunch.  They’ll also require water bowls and a temperature and humidity-controlled environment.  They love to climb, which makes me want to design little jungle gyms or other such structures to see if they’ll play with them.  Stick insects are among the best camouflaged of all creatures, so spotting them can be challenging but delightfully surprising.  They are mainly nocturnal, so we’d like to add a camera sensor to take snapshots at regular intervals when we’re not around.

The design idea that came into my head when I switched my thinking to a vivarium was a clear double-cylinder (like a large donut), with the inner diameter large enough for a person to insert their head and rotate 360 degrees at their leisure, to observe the creatures and plants in an immersive fashion.  The outer diameter of the cylinder would perhaps be 6 inches bigger, to form an enclosed environment, although the top of it could be a mesh to allow for air circulation.  I like Melissa’s organically-shaped interpretation, although for that creation we’d need a custom glass blower to make it for us.  My cylinder idea isn’t very practical either, so I’m sure we’ll modify our design.

We are planning next to visit some terrarium/vivarium shops around the city to get ideas for shapes, materials and plants.

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