Love for STEM is pretty much a given here at GeekDad, so when the MudWatt Kickstarter came across my desk, I was immediately intrigued. MudWatt is a microbial fuel cell kit that is intended to teach and spark an interest in energy, biology, physics, chemistry, and engineering across a wide-range of ages.
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I received two kits for review–one brand new kit and one live kit. My son and I will be experimenting with our new kit soon, but for now I just spent some time with the live kit.
I pulled a jar of wet mud an electrodes out of the shipping box and the first thing I had to do was open the jar and take a whiff. It smelled exactly what I imagine the trash compactor in Star Wars did and was what I expected. It is mud full of fungus and microbes after all! (It does not smell at all with the lid secured in place).
I jumped right in to Mode 1 – The Blinker. A blue 10?F capacitor plugs in to two pins of the Hacker Board and a LED plugs in to two other pins. Success! The LED started blinking immediately. When starting from scratch, apparently it takes several days for your microbes to ramp up production and for your LED to start blinking so don’t expect immediate results!
At this point, high on the success of the first mode, I jumped over to Mode 2 – The Clock and Thermometer. I removed the LED and capacitor from the Hacker Board then inserted the two black capacitors (a 0.47?F and 47?F one). The clock then plugged in to the last two pins on the Hacker Board and success again! I set the clock to the correct time and had a microbe powered clock and thermometer up and running in a matter of minutes.
Note: Do not try Mode 2 until AFTER you have played with the MudWatt Explorer App and your power has stabilized. The App uses your camera and the light output of the LED to take measurements and you can only have the clock OR LED connected so I had to go back and switch everything out to play with the App.
The MudWatt Explorer app is available on both iOS and Android. It’s very simple yet gives you a ton of data! Click “Measure,” steady the camera on your LED, and it will tell you how many microwatts your MudWatt is producing (mine is currently at around 116) and an estimate of how many microbes are in your kit producing that energy (2.4 BILLION in my kit). The app also graphs your measurements over time. Since I had a live kit and just did a couple of measurements my graph is pretty boring, but I imagine tracking it as your kit ramps up would be much more exciting.
The MudWatt kit and some accessories are already in production and available directly from their site so why the Kickstarter? The goal of the Kickstarter is not only to add some new accessories to the MudWatt kits–multimeters, resistors, buzzers, and compostable instructions you can feed to your MudWatt–but also to further its goal as an educational tool. MudWatt will be producing curriculum suitable for classrooms that is tied to the Next Generation Science Standards. They are also offering bulk packs of MudWatt with the curriculum for the classroom. For those looking for collectibles, a printed version of the comic and a plush electric microbe are also part of the rewards.
I am already excited about the possibilities of our MudWatt kits after just a little time with them, and I’d love to see them in my son’s school when he is older. The best thing about the MudWatt is that the science behind it can be taught at many different levels. The great comic can explain it to even small children while there is plenty of room for advanced science that I will readily admit even I as an adult don’t comprehend. Yet! I’m hopeful that the MudWatt kit will not only inspire my son’s interest in the sciences but also help teach me something.