Pyrocystis Sings


Published in New York Times

Tested with Pyrocystis Fusiformis
In collaboration with Satbir Multani
An exploration of understanding how microbes respond to different stimuli.

Pyrocystis is a microbe that is commonly found in the sea. This is a series of experiments that looks at their reaction to music.
In the night time, vibrations cause the pyrocystis to emit bioluminescent light. With this in mind, we were curious to see how they responded to music.

speakers used for experimenting with a bag containing pyrocystis placed on top.

We trained our microbes through controlled exposure to external light to effectively reverse their day-night cycles. They would now exhibit their glowing behavior during the day time, when we were awake to work with them. We then bagged and placed the microbes on the exposed cones of a speaker. After this, it was a matter of choosing the right music/vibration for the microbes to respond to.

pouring the glowing pyrocystis from the bottle into bags.

We tested audio samples with lots of low frequency content, strings and sharp transients in the form of strong beats. We found that the microbes respond best to strong beats. While they do respond to strings and sustained vibrations, it causes their light to drain fast. They would take around 20-30 minutes to recharge from such a session.

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