The Flowers are Listening: Machines Inspired by Nature

(This is the sixth in a series of blog articles written by the Providence Engineering Academy students. In this article, 12th grade student Alena reflects on building machines inspired by God’s incredible design found in His natural creation.)

Watch what you say because the flowers are listening.

Sounds like Alice in Wonderland, right? Okay, so maybe the flowers can’t listen to your conversation, but they do “listen.” Sound is so fundamental—birds, wind, the waves at the beach, cars driving by—that relying on it is essential to survival.

Researcher Lilach Hadany posed the question: what if flowers had this same necessary survival instinct? She concluded that they do and that they also respond to the sounds around them. Hadany and her team studied evening primroses (pictured) and discovered that when these flowers sense vibrations from bees’ wings they temporarily increase the concentration of sugar in their nectar. They concluded that it would be too much for the flower to produce this amount of sugar in the nectar at all times, so they respond to vibrations to know when to produce “the good stuff”.

Now picture this: twenty-four engineering students, sitting outside in the sun, 100% sure they had no idea about what today’s lesson will be. Then, Mr. Meadth hands out giant sticky notes. Confusion. Suddenly, Davis knows what’s going on (he’s been keeping up with recent science). Articles are handed out, read, and reread. It all makes sense now.

The engineering students are split into teams of two and asked to design a machine that can do the same things this flower can. The lesson of the day was all about how many machines today are based on nature, and how we can gain inspiration from looking at God’s creation around us. As the students started designing their own flower, they realized how complex the components would have to be.

Take a minute, and think of what you would need. Done? Cool. You may continue.

Let’s start at the top and work our way down. To replicate the “receiver” of the vibrations, you would need to replicate the petals. They were so precise that if you removed even one petal, the flowers didn’t respond to vibrations at all. You would also need a place for the sugar to be distributed from, as well as a computer to know how and when to change the sugar content, and by how much. You would need something connecting all of the sensors, the computer, the sugar center, and the power. There are so many components that we probably don’t even come close to listing them all here.

To replicate this phenomenon of nature in a machine is so complicated and precise, that it would take months or years to get even close to what nature can do. As we look at this flower as a microscopic portion of God’s creation and it’s vast complexity, we should step back and remember that we are His creation too, and we should find the goodness in everything.

(Find the full article on this amazing discovery here at National Geographic’s website.)

Architectural Competition in Santa Ynez

If you had been lurking around the Upper Campus at 6:55 am on Tuesday the 13th of March, braving the rain and stumbling about in the dark, you might just have caught sight of a strange and unusual thing: eight high school students and one teacher loading up into a white van. Wielding scale rulers, plastic triangles, and mechanical pencils, these intrepid adventurers had only two things in mind—the Santa Barbara High School Architectural Competition, and a desire for strong coffee.

Victor, Gabe, and Trevor: together in life, together in architecture!

All grades were represented in the group: Tys (our sole senior); Eva, Gabe, Josh, Trevor, and Victor (juniors); Peter (sophomore); Josh (freshman). They arrived at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School, and quickly found their way to the gymnasium. Along with about 50 other high school students from Dos Pueblos, San Marcos, Santa Ynez, Dunn, St. Joseph’s, Santa Maria, and more, they listened attentively as the design challenge was described.

Josh and Peter read the design brief carefully as the
competition begins

The challenge: to design a new fire station that would be both functional and attractive, having a natural “park-like” feel. Constraints were given as to fire truck bay dimensions, equipment lockers, living quarters requirements. Particular difficulty lay in the small size of the property described. Not to be fazed, the students launched into it with gusto!

This competition has been running annually for the last 27 years, conceived and managed by David Goldstien from the Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara.  Recent winners have come from Dos Pueblos, Laguna Blanca, St. Joseph’s, and Dunn. This is the first year that Providence has entered the competition; David reached out personally to our school this year to make us aware and extend his invitation.

Tys, Eva, and Josh working hard and enjoying the day!

It was a long day of creating professional-style scale drawings (site plan, floor plans, and elevations), but the students all agreed that the seven hours had flown by, and they could have done with just a little more time! Gabe commented that this was the “the best icebreaker you could do to get into the world of architecture.” Trevor noted that the whole experience “helped us understand how to spend time wisely.”

The entries were judged on the same day by practicing architects, and within 24 hours we received some good news: Josh and Gabe had both placed in the top twelve, and were asked to present their designs to the final panel at the Alisal Guest Ranch!

Gabe describes the nuances of his plans to the judges
Josh prepares for his own spiel

In the end, the competition was won by Vivian from Dunn School in Los Olivos. Vivian has placed amongst the winners in years past, and so was well prepared to take the lead. However, our congratulations go out to all of our eight students, and especially Josh and Gabe, who represented Providence so well in their very first attempt. A supervising teacher from Santa Maria commented on the difference that our students exhibit: her students have commented that they want “the Providence confidence!”

Josh and Gabe proudly stand for a photo at the Alisal

The Providence Engineering Academy teaches many different aspects of design and engineering, in its pursuit to “inspire and equip students to find creative solutions to the world’s problems through mathematics, science, and engineering, as imitators of a creative God.” Architecture is but one of those many exciting elements, and we congratulate all of our participants for their creativity and hard work. For more information on our engineering programs, contact Rod Meadth or download the application packet from the sidebar of this website.

MIT Enterprise Forum

Students from our Academy were recently invited to attend the Central Coast MIT Enterprise Forum, a monthly event right here in Santa Barbara that presents on a range of topics relating to business, entrepreneurship, and technology. Kristin Horton of the Haven Capital Group reached out and generously offered to cover charges for any of our seniors or juniors, and Gabriel and Jake (pictured) were only too happy to accept.
(photo by Tys vanZeyl)
The Enterprise Forum has recently tackled such topics as cybersecurity, the technology of disaster relief, and thermal vision (it is an interesting fact that infrared technology is actually an industry strength of Santa Barbara). This month’s topic was “Go Big! Go Green!”, looking at how businesses can realistically–and profitably–incorporate sustainable practice into their daily operations. Included among the speakers were representatives from Patagonia and Sonos.
On the whole, our boys enjoyed hearing from local industry leaders, making connections, and of course the open buffet! Students from nearby Anacapa School were also invited, all of this being part of the Forum’s new student outreach initiative. We’re thankful to the Enterprise Forum, and especially to Ms. Horton, and we hope to see more students at these and similar events as opportunities arise.