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9th Grade Science Experiment: Garden Cress Won't Germinate Near Routers 327

New submitter SessionExpired writes "Five 9th graders from Denmark have shown that garden cress won't germinate when placed near a router (Google Translation of Danish original). Article text is in Danish, but the pictures illustrate their results. The exact mechanism is still unknown (Danish original), but experts have shown interest in reproducing the experiment."
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9th Grade Science Experiment: Garden Cress Won't Germinate Near Routers

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  • by quintus_horatius ( 1119995 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:02PM (#43756537) Homepage

    experts have shown interest in reproducing the experiment

    Or not reproducing, as the case may be.

    • Re:No reproduction (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ankhank ( 756164 ) * on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:20PM (#43756795) Journal

      Outgassing from the plastic and electronics, I'll bet.
      Nice new routers, I'll bet. Loaded with stuff that's volatile.

      Did they try a Faraday Cage to rule out the radio waves?

      • by mwvdlee ( 775178 )

        Easy enough to test experimentally.
        Just disable the Wifi on one of two routers (or disconnect the transmitter on hardware) and see if it makes a difference.

        • Re:No reproduction (Score:5, Insightful)

          by mikael ( 484 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:37PM (#43757023)

          There are so many combinations:

          Does the router need to be switched on?
          What if there is just a transformer and cable, but not a router?
          Does the router need wi-fi enabled? In the 2.5GHz band? In the 5Ghz band?
          Does the router need to be in line-of-sight, or can it be hermetically sealed in a container?

          • Is it the cold, lightless, lifeless, soul-sucking corner of the room that the router is located in?

            Maybe it's the cold, lightless, lifeless, soul-sucking nation that the entire room is located in.

            Or maybe these kids are just damn poor gardeners. It takes talent to botch it so badly that the seeds don't even sprout.

      • Or the ninth graders just forgot to water one side of the tray.

      • Wait a minute, are we talking about an actual "router" (as in something that deterministically routes packets) or are we talking about the a "layer 3 switch that also includes a wireless access point" which laypeople refer to simply as a router?

        There are quite some not-so-subtle differences between the two, and if we're being scientific about this, we should note the distinction. If it is just the access point component, then that has broader implications on anything that runs at the 2.4ghz spectrum (or 5gh

    • Ha. I get your joke but of course there's a difference between replicating the experiment and replicating the results.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      For anyone who actually wants to reproduce the experiment, a teacher from Hjallerup posted a detailed description of the experiment setup [] in the comments of the second FA. It's in Danish, but Google Translate should be able to make some sense of it.

      At the very least, it seems to have been done a lot more thoroughly that I had first suspected. I'm still sceptical that the results will be consistently replicated, but the experiment as described is of high enough standard to warrant an attempt.

  • by dlingman ( 1757250 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:05PM (#43756583)

    Your typical slashdotter probably sits closer to their router than the plants. And is about as likely to germinate.

  • Need a control. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RightSaidFred99 ( 874576 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:06PM (#43756597)

    They should have used a control, and put cress near a lamp bulb that gives off the same amount of heat.

    Simplest explanation is the additional heat which was nearby but not enough to alter room temperature affected them.

    • Re:Need a control. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jeffmeden ( 135043 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:17PM (#43756761) Homepage Journal

      They should have used a control, and put cress near a lamp bulb that gives off the same amount of heat.

      Simplest explanation is the additional heat which was nearby but not enough to alter room temperature affected them.

      Typical routers (i presume they are talking about an 802.11 router here) will emit 150 to 250 mW per radio. Even in a 3 radio version the total power is still less than 1W (depending on how high the bandwidth utilization was), and it's certainly spread beyond just the plate of seeds sitting next to it. That 1W of heat energy would have an amazingly small change in overall temperature on the subject, probably not even enough to measure with conventional instruments.

      • Re:Need a control. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Megane ( 129182 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:25PM (#43756867) Homepage

        The router itself generates heat, and the point of the root post was that it was the radiated heat that cause the result, not some puny low-power microwaves. I've had quite a few DSL modems "fail to germinate" because they overheated themselves. Right now at home I'm running one with the cover removed and a small heat sink (the only one I have small enough to fit between the capacitors, etc.) on the main chip.

        If they can get warm enough to burn themselves up, they can also get warm enough to prevent a seed from growing, if through no other means than making the seed think that it's the wrong time of the year.

        • Re:Need a control. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by lpevey ( 115393 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:54PM (#43757251)

          This comment is not really insightful. A lot of people even use electric heating pads underneath seed trays specifically to generate heat. I agree the experiment would have been even more impressive with controls wrt certain variables (including heat--why not), but it is extremely, extremely unlikely that, as the poster put it, "they can also get warm enough to prevent a seed grom growing."

        • Re:Need a control. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Peter H.S. ( 38077 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @05:11PM (#43757501) Homepage

          They placed the AP's so that the heat they generated wouldn't affect the garden cress. Room temperature was computer monitored and regulated, the humidity was regulated, and they photographed the batches to document that no drying up or rot was present. They mixed the seed batches, randomized the seed selection etc etc.

          The experimental setup and their elimination of errors and bias is considered to of very high quality, which is why they won a junior science prize. Their actual result meant nothing in that regard.

          The first experiment was with idle AP's only broadcasting ESSID. The second experiment added some Linux laptops that ping-flooded to generate lots of network activity. The second experiment showed a clear increase in plant "damage" /lack of development.

        • by Khyber ( 864651 )

          "If they can get warm enough to burn themselves up, they can also get warm enough to prevent a seed from growing"

          Uh, I use heated trays for seedlings all the time. Cress has a fairly WIDE range of germination temperatures.

          I think you need to go take some horticulture classes, or get a job doing horticulture, before you go on speaking about something you're totally wrong about.

          The seeds would have to have been right on top of the router for that kind of heat to affect them.

    • by pspahn ( 1175617 )

      I doubt it was the direct heat itself. I am not terribly familiar with garden cress specifically, but I would assume it likes things warm and damp for germination. Assuming the dampness was adequate, I can't imagine the heat would be significant enough to prevent germination.

      I would look closer at what is happening to the localized humidity near the router. The heat may instead be drying things outs, and if the router has any kind of active cooling, that may exacerbate things.

    • by hawguy ( 1600213 )

      They should have used a control, and put cress near a lamp bulb that gives off the same amount of heat.

      Simplest explanation is the additional heat which was nearby but not enough to alter room temperature affected them.

      The control would have to be a router that's powered on but not transmitting to account for the possibility of outgassing or some other effect from the router (magnetic field from the power supply? Flashing Light from the router disrupting the plant's growing cycle?). Maybe replacing the antennas with terminators to eliminate (mostly) transmissions while leaving the transmitter active would be a better control.

    • Plants aren't that sensitive. Most likely explanation is failure to follow experimental protocol - these aren't professional scientists, they are students at a school, with the experiment in a room accessible to hundreds of people.

      Chances are someone decided that 'plants grow' isn't going to get them a lot of attention, and sprinkled the router side with weedkiller. Or simply didn't water it. Thus they are assured of getting some media coverage, and a very good shot at winning the school science competition

    • Re:Need a control. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Spiridios ( 2406474 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @06:41PM (#43758305) Journal

      They should have used a control, and put cress near a lamp bulb that gives off the same amount of heat.

      Or not. Nothing in the scientific method says your first experiment has to be perfect. They did one experiment, with a control for one variable (router/no router), it showed unexpected results. So now you look at things that could explain those results (heat? VOC? EM?) and revise your experiment to prove them or rule them out. Seems to me it's not a "should have" but a "let try this next".

  • by vivaoporto ( 1064484 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:11PM (#43756667)
    The experiment was setup to validate a foregone conclusion. The (probable, as I can't read the Danish complete report) untested control factor was the impact the different rooms had in the absence of the routers. Retesting both samples without the presence of the routers could fix this issue.

    Anyway, it is good science (it is testable and verifiable) but bad journalism.

    Unless it can be reproduced or its mechanism explained, it is nothing but fuel to add to the "communication radiation exposure is bad" hysteria.
    • I agree. The 9th graders certainly did an interesting experiment that deserves the attention. But they must now continue to develop a more thorough test environment to see what actually might be causing the radical difference in the growth of the crass crops. Their test methodology is not accurate enough yet to make any real conclusions.
    • The experiment was setup to validate a foregone conclusion.

      isn't that basically the definition of a hypothesis?

  • Now do it again (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Clueless Moron ( 548336 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:13PM (#43756699)
    but this time move the routers to the other room. As it stands, they still don't know if it was the routers causing the problem or something else in that particular room (temperature, draft, amount of sunlight, etc).
    • by Nadaka ( 224565 )

      I for one keep my router in a closed closet. I would expect that it will have less plants growing there than in a room with a window.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Holy shit, I need to get my router out of my grow room.
    • So the moral of the story may be "don't put a wifi-router down your pants and leave it there" ?
  • by SJHillman ( 1966756 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:14PM (#43756709)

    So it would seem it doesn't matter that the device had routing capability, as they were using it as an AP. They should call it a wireless AP then, not a router, as the routing bit is irrelevant.

  • by Stoutlimb ( 143245 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:14PM (#43756717)

    Some local newspaper has grabbed hold of the story and the implication is that the result is solid science, where in fact it is either a preliminary discovery, or an aberration of some sort. Things like this happen all the time, which is why there is a need for reproducing the results, which has not yet been done. However, the story is already circling the globe and no doubt this will add more fuel to the fire of people claiming this type of radiation is harmful. It's irresponsible journalism on Slashdot's part by posting this story and over-hyping something that could be nothing. Next thing we know, every lab error will be either heralded as cold fusion, the discovery of dark matter, or space aliens, if we go by the standard of proof in this article. When this most likely goes sour, I hope it doesn't turn off those hard working kids from science altogether.

    That being said, I would be interested if this experiment was reproduced by several respectable researchers, but the skeptic in me says that this will likely not happen. This story is really jumping the gun, and doesn't belong in anything but a small town Danish newspaper, let alone Slashdot.

    • by tftp ( 111690 )

      I would be interested if this experiment was reproduced by several respectable researchers, but the skeptic in me says that this will likely not happen.

      You can always try the experiment yourself. Your local Home Depot (or equivalent) has a good selection of seeds, and the seeds don't require much attention. You can even buy exactly those seeds at Amazon for a princely sum of $1.89 [].

      • by pspahn ( 1175617 )

        Your local Home Depot (or equivalent) has a good selection of seeds

        Do yourself a favor and never buy plants from Home Depot. They are grown by cut-rate farmers who (depending on the variety of tree) sometimes simply collect these plants from the wild. These trees are destined to fail. Of course, not all of their stock is this way, but the stuff that isn't is still poorly cared for by people who know little about plants.

        I get that you're only talking about a pack of seeds, but the premise stands. Besides, buying from a local garden center is so much more of an enjoyable e

        • by geekoid ( 135745 )

          Speak for yourself.

          The garden shops around here are the plant equivalent to a record shop in 1985. Snotty and derisive.

    • by LoRdTAW ( 99712 )

      Reading the /. summary does not at all sound alarming or sensational. They are merely reporting a story that in all likeliness has been sensationalized and over hyped in the general media. Droves of average joes are going to freak out at declare that wifi and cell phones make your sterile, give you cancer or turns your children into autistic ironic hipsters. Sadly the general populace will not be smart enough to realize these students could have made a simple mistake in the experiment or not have been thoro

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Since I submitted the story, the full report has been made public [], and the biology teacher involved in the experiment has commented on various details [].

        Based on information from these two links, I'll try to answer your questions (my translations).

        -Wifi and GSM are on different bands so why speculate cell phones could also have the same effect?

        The report doesn't explain this. It goes from "We want to study the effects of radiation from cell phones" in one paragraph to "we'll be doing this by [...] cress seeds placed near Wifi hotspots or not" a bit later. The teacher notes "For newer 3G or LTE connections

    • by dacut ( 243842 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:45PM (#43757129)

      ... but not due to the results; this is an example of good, solid science coming out of a secondary school with limited resources. Given what I could read of the translation, I don't think this is irresponsible journalism at all -- think of it more as journalism on the state of education, not science.

      It is, of course, an extraordinary result, and will require extraordinary proof. I suspect the claims will not be reproduced; at the same time, I hope these kid-researchers keep their interest level in this experiment up regardless of outcome. From this, they'll learn about experimental errors, uncontrolled factors, and -- most importantly -- to divorce their ego from their results. That last bit is perhaps the hardest for most scientists to achieve.

  • by WillgasM ( 1646719 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:19PM (#43756791) Homepage
    When I was 16 or so, I was working on my uncle's boat in Alaska. It was a slow day, so we were painting railings and such. I heard my uncle call my name, wondering where I was. I called back that I was on top of the wheelhouse. He went ahead and shut off the radar, but I'd already been standing next to it for and hour or more. I honestly don't mind since pulling out seems so unnatural. I guess if I ever want to have kids I'll just have to try harder and think fertile thoughts.
    • I guess if I ever want to have kids I'll just have to try harder and think fertile thoughts.

      First you'll need to quit doing Slashdot (the great invention in the long line after condom and the pill)

    • Joke fail: Radar is non-ionising radiation. Won't affect fertility or give you mutant superpowers. You need something with a bit more energy for that.

      Mythbusters did attempt to cook a chicken by strapping it in front of a radar transmitter. Didn't work. It's doable, but you need something with more power than your little marine radar to do it.

  • Simple cause: Plants don't run Linux ;-)

    • Windows: It's what plants crave! At least when I look around me, all plants grow under the windows and none under my Linux box.
  • by Gothmolly ( 148874 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:23PM (#43756845)

    Thanks, Editor-dot, for not reviewing TFS. This was an experiment to test EM radition, its nothing to do with 'routers'. Believe it or not, there are things which are 'routers' that are not supplied by your ISP when you sign up for home broadband.

  • by Nrrqshrr ( 1879148 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:24PM (#43756855)
    Another interesting experiment would be to keep an eye on these kids and see what they will become later. This might be very interesting.
  • First, the frequencies used by mobile phones are fairly different from those used by wifi routers. Second, I wonder what the total power output of the routers (and the received power at the watercress) was during the experiment. Third, I'm wondering how the kids will duplicate this experiment around a cell tower...very interesting.

    (There is much anecdotal evidence about the bad health effects of cellphone radiation out there--I will not be surprised if the evidence proves a mechanism one day.)

    • oh really? my cell phone uses channels in the 2.4GHz space where I live. My wifi router does also.

  • well done kids! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thephydes ( 727739 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:26PM (#43756891)
    This is exactly what we should be encouraging kids to do. Regardless of lack of control or other "missing" experimental methods, this is a significant scientific result for a bunch of 9th graders. Good on them and good on their teacher for encouraging them to do the experiment and having the balls to publish it.
    • Someone mod up please.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      To the contrary, teaching kids that ignoring controls to seek a desired result encourages the type of junk science so common today. The teacher should instead explain how heat caused the germination to suffer and to determine the true impact, heat would have to be controlled for.

      • Re:well done kids! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by thephydes ( 727739 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:55PM (#43757271)
        You are obviously not a teacher although you may well be a scientist. Teachers either tell the kids what to do or encourage them to explore and THEN discuss results/flaws/improvements. After 33 years as an educator I can assure you that the latter is the most effective method and is a better preparation for pre-tertiary science. In addition I'll bet that the first "scientists" did not think about controls, they just collected evidence. This experiment is just that, a collection of evidence.
    • All the same, I'm more interested in the "how fast can you get daddy another beer?" experiment.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It said two different *rooms*. The room with the router could be a very different environment for a lot of other reasons.

    Re-run the experiment in the same room so there are fewer variables to control. Place the sprouting trays in a line leading from the router, and see if sprouting and/or growth is always suppressed closer. Alternatively, same room but with a Faraday cage around some of the sprouting trays.

  • by MaxToTheMax ( 1389399 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:30PM (#43756943)
    Wifi routers operate on microwave frequencies. It's possible that the harmful effects on the seeds were culinary rather than carcinogenic; that is, the seeds' internal temperatures were raised slightly, cooking them to death, instead of genetic damage. On the other hand, a human body has a giant active cooling system (the bloodstream and skin,) so minute temperature variations are less harmful. Alternate explanation: Based on my understanding of botany, I believe plant seeds usually consist of relatively few unusually large cells. This means there are fewer copies of each chromosome to go around, so damage to one chromosome is much more catastrophic than it would be in an adult human body, where mutations happen all the time and it's really no big deal. Finally, consider the inverse square law. The amount of radiation, say, two inches from a router, is vastly less than the amount of radiation a foot and a half away.
    • Radio is non-ionising, it wouldn't cause DNA damage. Nor is is possible that the radio could heat the seeds - not enough power. Far more likely is that heat from the router electronics dried out the medium the seeds were on, and more likely still is that the 'fail' group were in an entirely different room and thus at a completely different temperature.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    and the flowers have already switched to IPv6.

  • They seemed to cover all their bases. They put all the plants in a room with a router and red light. They told the plants that the red light meant the router was on. Whenever the red light was illuminated, almost 90% of the participating plants did not grow, regardless of the power status of router, whereas when the red light was off, all the plants grew, even when the router was powered on!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 17, 2013 @05:08PM (#43757471)

    They're using 2.4GHz wifi routers. 3G and LTE was not chosen because of data cost.
    The rooms are all locked, so only the teacher and the 5 pupils have access.
    They've done the tests twice with the same results.
    They've controlled temperature, water amount, sun radiation from windows and more factors, to control bias.

    The danish newspaper Ingeniøren (The Engineer) has the teacher Kim Horsevad explain in detail in the comments on their article on the subject:

    His comment is REALLY long, so some other dane will have to translate if Google Translate doesn't cut it ;)

  • by Vegan Cyclist ( 1650427 ) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @02:55AM (#43760451) Homepage
    I've had a lot of experience in sprouting (alfalfa, beans like chickpeas, peas, lentils, etc) - i'm going to make two batches from the same mix of seeds/beans, and place one beside my wifi router, and see what happens...

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