Screen shot of a mung bean video

Watch the germination of a mung bean using micro-CT scanning technology.

Credit: Erica Seccombe at ANU School of Art, Department of Applied Mathematics, visualised in Drishti, at VizLab, NCI.

Written by Emily Standen

Did you know 2016 is the International Year of Pulses? Take your hand off you wrist though – this type of pulse refers to food, not your heartbeat!

Pulses include particular types of legumes such as lentils, mung beans and kidney beans. They are a food source for many cultures right around the world. They also play an important role in soil health, especially for farmers.

For plants to grow, they need nitrogen in the soil. Pulses are home to certain types of bacteria, and these bacteria convert nitrogen from the air into a form plants can use. This reduces the amount of nitrogen-rich fertiliser a farmer might need, even after the pulse crop has been harvested.

Science + art

Visual artist Erica Seccombe is taking a closer look at pulses using micro-CT scanning technology. Working at the Australian National University, she’s capturing the sprouting of mung beans like never before!

Erica was able to measure the density of mung beans as they grew, and used this data to produce 3D video models. With 3D scanning and visualisation technology, you can see changes happening inside and outside the seeds at the same time.

Erica enjoys bridging the gap between science and art. “Creating with science allows us to visualise an event that is mundane and every day in a brand new way,” say Erica.

Surprising bubbles

The initial videos have scientists intrigued. There is evidence of bubbles forming inside the growing seeds that no one predicted.

One idea is that the bubbles are the result of carbon dioxide gas produced as the mung beans begin to grow. This could provide pressure that helps a mung bean to split open the seed.

Another suggestion is that the bubbles could be the result of the pressure and temperature changes inside the seed, turning liquids into gas.

However, some scientists are urging caution. The scanning technique used by Erica has the potential to heat water inside the seed, causing it to vaporise and form bubbles. That means the bubbles may not be part of the growing process at all.

Armed with this information, scientists can now plan experiments to discover the source of the bubbles!

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