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Name: Kevin
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Question:
I am a senior in high school doing a science fair project involving plants and electricity. I need to know how much electricity the plants can handle without killing them. I don't have the time to get a bunch of plants and test different currents so here is my question: How can i calculate the maximum current that the plants can survive? I figure if i can find that number, then ill know to use something smaller than that value.


Replies:
The following dealing with electrical charges applied to the venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) might be helpful:

http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=2245849

http://www.plantphysiol.org/cgi/content/full/146/2/694

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6W72-4S0207M-2&_user=10&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=1a470b4e20bde1c824a9078dd59f8d35

Also electrical charges have been applied to rice seeds and resultant growth of the rice studied:

http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?arnumber=01282263

and this newspaper article on the same topic:

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9804E5DA123AE533A25755C2A9669D94609ED7CF

Finally this overall summary of the electrochemistry of plant life:

http://electrochem.cwru.edu/ed/encycl/art-p01-plants.htm

Sincerely,

Anthony R. Brach, PhD
Missouri Botanical Garden
c/o Harvard University Herbaria


This is not an easy project at best. Perhaps a better description is "impossible" without a lot of work. Step back and think of the variables that would, or could, have major effects: type and size of plant (e.g. a tree or grass), moisture content (very variable), how to measure voltage/resistance (a lightning discharge or a 6 volt battery), AC vs. DC current, the branching of the trunk, stems, leaves, how to make good contact with the plant tissue, temperature, thermal conductivity and/or heat capacity of the plant (controls how much heat is dissipated), structure of the root system, electrical conductivity of the soil.

Those are experimental variables that just come to mind as fast as I can type. You may find the electrical conductivity (or resistivity) of wood, but I'm not sure where. Even refining your objective to that degree still makes the project formidable.

Before selecting a project, it is important to think about all the variables involved, and determine whether the number and determination of the variables are feasible. In your case, I think a little forethought strongly indicates that the analysis will quickly show that the objective is "out of sight". I suggest you think seriously about a different project.

Vince Calder



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