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Seed in space/sound in time

Seed in space/sound in time

Above Wollemia nobilis, W.G.Jones, K.D.Hill & J.M.Allen Image: University of Melbourne Herbarium, MELU accession number: MELU G 113379a

In 2008 NASA and the Botanic Gardens Trust sent 2,500 Golden Wattle, NSW Waratah, Flannel Flower and Wollemi Pine seeds to the International Space Station. The experiment explored the effects of microgravity and ionising radiation on the seeds, to determine whether such a ‘space seedbank’ was a viable off-world option to terrestrial seedbanks. This was the first time Australian native seeds had be sent into space.

Control samples of the seeds were retained at the Mount Annan Botanic Garden Seedbank, NSW, to compare and contrast the ability of the seeds to progonate, relative to the seeds sent onto the International Space Station. Data loggers recorded every temperature each seed experienced at 10 minute intervals, to inform the analysis of the comparative ability of the seeds to grow in the different locations, including growing International Space Station seeds back at Mount Annan Botanic Garden after their return.

Wollemi Seeds sent to International Space Station Recording: Josh Wodak

The object is an original sound composition, by Josh Wodak, which maps the temperature three Wollemi Pine seeds experienced over the year of the project. This artwork uses data sonification to map this temperature to modify the playback speed and pitch of three recordings of Snowy Tree Crickets, as this insect constantly monitors its surrounding temperature, and adjusts the pulse rate and pitch of its chirping according to any changes in ambient temperature. It is as if each seed has a Snowy Tree Cricket watching over its journey – in line with how scientists use data loggers to mechanically record all changes in temperature and humidity that the seeds experience in the experiment.

The sound artwork, called seed in space/sound in time, represents the natural vs artificial temperatures occasioned in the three seeds’ respective journeys in 2008. The sonic journey for all seeds originates at Wollemi National Park, where they were collected. One seed remains in situ – representing the benchmark for the ‘natural’ climate experienced by an uncollected seed, while the others travel to Mount Annan and Low Earth Orbi on the International Space Station..

The work maps Wollemi Pine seeds, given the extraordinary morphogenesis of the species over its 200 million year evolution, the very recent discovery of the species, in 1994, and its subsequent classification as Critically Endangered on the IUCN’s Red List. In so doing, it highlights the rapidity and turbulence of contemporary environmental upheaval: after 200 million years of continuous descendence in one micro-bioregion, three related seeds are scatted across and above the Earth in the name of conservation biology.