Rhizotron is a root observatory art installation created collaboratively by the art and science class, Professors Iris Meier (Molecular Genetics) and Amy Youngs (Art), and students Ashley Browne, Amanda Hsieh, Laura Kruczynski, Paul Lacher, Dylan Rush, Tracy Szatan, Zachary Upperman, and Ziying Ye.

Under our feet, humble plant roots are embedded in a world of co-dependent interactions. Fungi, bacteria, worms, springtails and many yet undiscovered life forms call the rhizosphere their home. How do these underground dwellers – blind to our own sense of light – know each other, respond to each other, communicate with each other to form a healthy web of life? Roots transmit signals that percolate within and extend beyond their own bodies.

Nuclei – tiny “kernels” in cells, housing genetic information – are sent on browsing expeditions to detect other lifeforms. Roots collaborate with some of these lifeforms, inviting them into their bodies, while others are ignored, and some are fervently fought against. Roots then respond to and emit frequencies. They sense and grow towards the sound of water sources and 220hz has been shown to support root growth. Underground, roots of corn seedlings make “clicking” sounds at the very lowest frequencies of the human auditory range. Much is unknown about the rhizosphere and the myriad ways and reasons roots communicate and interact with it and within it. Roots sense the center of the earth, long for it, respond to it, and fight all obstacles in their way to reach for it.

We invite you to enter the underground zone of the rhizosphere. Our Rhizotron installation is an observatory of the root world; offering glimpses of an ecosystem we humans know little about.

Explore it with us. You might even discover creatures not yet dreamt of by science, art or philosophy.

Special Thanks:

Norman Groves, Lily Thompson, Alison Bennett, Eduardo Acosta, Jacklyn Brickman, and The Olentangy Wetlands Research Park