7 Jul 2012

Behind multiple green-glowing fish tanks in a backroom gallery in Brooklyn sits ‘Anthropologist-In-Residence’ Eben Kirksey. His Multispecies Salon tells the complex and interwoven histories of two frogs: the African clawed frog, sold commonly in the US as a pet, and the Panamanian golden frog, endemic to Panama and labelled endangered but suspected to be extinct since last decade.

Eben in his ‘office’

The African clawed frog was commonly used in pregnancy tests even as recently as the 1950s, and is suspected of being one of the main vectors of the chytrid fungus, which was cause for the golden frog’s extinction. Before its extinction though, a breeding program was launched by the Maryland Zoo and the National Aquarium in Baltimore and they have successfully bred and thereby rescued the species. However, their program has proven so successful, that they sadly cannot keep all the frogs they breed while they cautiously try to find a way to reintroduce them, taking into account their sensitivity to the chytrid fungus.

So, in steps citizen scientist Eben and his Utopia for the Golden Frog, a full-sized refrigerator modified into an amphibious habitat and viewing gallery. The freezer door has been removed, turning the compartment into a display shelf. Meanwhile, the fridge door has had a window hacked into it, and inside rests a fish tank proposed as the ideal habitat for a few golden frogs. An Arduino mounted on the face of the fridge regulates temperature and humidity inside the tank, compensating for heat from the interior light bulbs, and other variables, to produce this ‘utopia.’ A webcam is even mounted inside for live viewing! While Eben doesn’t have any golden frogs (yet), he hopes to demonstrate the possibilities of citizen science, with plans to open-source the design specs and code running his project. Viewable for a few more days, if you’re near Proteus Gowanus in Brooklyn this weekend, be sure to stop by.

Update: Hat tips to Eben’s collaborators Mike Khadavi for the ecosystem design, and Grayson Earle for the Arduino programming.

(Via MAKE Magazine.)