Pieter the Seed Eater with Pen Holland and Sarah Wyse

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In this episode, we’re talking to Dr. Pen Holland and Dr. Sarah Wyse about Pieter, the Seed Eater. This project is really cross-over, there’s lot’s of biology, math and computer science involved.

Here’s some background info about the two interviewees in this episode – Dr Pen Holland and Dr. Sarah Wyse: 

Dr Pen Holland  is a lecturer in ecology, and a RPi certified educator at the University of York. She is also  is a quantitative ecologist whose interests range from using simple models to understand complex ecological problems, to developing novel ways to teach, disseminate research, and engage people in the biosciences. 

Dr Sarah Wyse  is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Bio-Protection Research Centre, based at Lincoln University, NZ. Sarah is a plant ecologist whose current research focus is on quantifying seed dispersal potential to model the invasion risk of introduced conifer species in New Zealand. 

The Seed Eater project, or “Pieter, the Seed Eater” is a project which combines many different sciences and skills, such as ecology, mathematics and digital making. I coined it a “crossover project” for me internally, as so many different sciences intersect. 

Image: Copyright Pen Holland and Sarah Wyse – used with permission

The Seed Eater project arose from research into how fast winged seeds (these are called samaras) fall, in order to predict how far they might travel across a landscape, and hence understand how quickly populations of invasive trees might spread. 

To measure all the data that is required for this, Pieter the Seed Eater was built. It’s a 2-3m high device, custom-made,  that captures and processes images of a falling seeds, and calculates the seed’s terminal velocity. It’s built with a Raspberry PI and all code is written in the Python programming language – if you want to build your own Seed Eater, you can apply for a seed eater kit or build your own!

But even if you don’t have the time to replicate this project, you can still use the teaching materials created to explore biology and math or use the online tools, maybe even with out own data that you collected with your students or kids, to see on an interactive map how the seeds disperse.

Photos: (c) Pen Holland and Sarah Wyse – used with permission

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