Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Visions of an illuminated tree

The Phylogenetic Christmas Tree; Lighting the tree of life.

Hi, my name is Kristopher Hite and I am a science educator. Every time I learn something new about the natural world I want to climb the tallest structure I can find and shout it at the top of my lungs!

I did precisely that last week as I live-blogged the World Science Festival. After filling my brain to the brim with new and exciting ideas at the festival, I just kep going!  I walked into another deluge of inspiration at the American Museum of Natural History. Inside I witnessed the best special museum exhibit I had ever seen. It was called "creatures of light" and it had as many examples as it could pack into one space of all the plants, mushrooms, and animals that glow in nature.

Several light bulbs went off in my head and in front of my eyes that day.

The most exciting idea I had came when I stood staring at a glowing plastic model of  the species Pyrodinium bahamense whirling fire creature of the Bahamas. Mesmerized by the pulsating glow of the floating orb in front of me I could not stop thinking how I wanted this as a Christmas ornament for my mother.

Exiting the exhibit through the gift shop I saw a paucity of gifts available that really captured the excitement of the exhibit, no whirling fire creature ornaments, no glowing oyster mushroom figurines. After thinking about it overnight I had an a-Ha moment this morning.

What if I built a living-room sized model of the phylogenetic tree of life, and then put pulsating, glowing LED lights at each branch where we see a species has evolved bioluminescence? What if I went further and put model mycelium strands between the branches to highlight the possibility of horizontal gene transfer in nature? And what if this item then showed up in households around the world in December? I have chills just thinking about it. A way to turn householdss into science classrooms, turning a cherished holiday into a "teachable moment" in evolutionary biology. This is brilliant! Quite literally. 

How can I make this reality? How can I accomplish this? I need tools, materials and a work space but most of all I need you.

I am asking you to be Part of this, own a part of this twist on tradition. Come with me as I decorate the tree of life with lights! Donors can send their photographs to me and I will weave these still images to make you tube videos promoting the phylogenetic Christmas tree. Please visit the kickstarter page for this project and help me launch the Phylogenetic Christmas tree (I'll have it up tonight.

Carl Sagan envisioned science as a "candle in the dark" a candle lighting the shadows in a demon haunted world. My wish is that the phylogenetic Christmas tree becomes a torch for science in homes around the world. Please Kick-Start me.

Link to kickstarter page will appear here tonight after I record the promo using a prop I picked up at the Natural History Museum. Stay tuned.

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