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Podcasts and the Physics of Plant Roots

This month on the Physics Buzz podcast I'm talking to two physicists who are both studying plant roots.

Last week on the podcast I talked to Cornell physics graduate student Jesse Silverberg about his work studying the way plant roots curl as they make their way through layers of soil. With the booming population of humans consuming more and more food, while taking up more and more space, we're going to need to understand how plants survive (or why they don't) in unusual environments.

Look out in the next week or two for the next podcast in this series, where I'll talk with Dr. Dawn Wendell, who is taking a lesson from plant roots and applying it to robots. Many plants live in granular materials, which can include sandy or rocky soils. Plant roots wind their way through these odd locations, looking for the path of least resistance, rather than trying to force their way straight down. Wendell says that robots and mechanical diggers that incorporate this principle of flexibility can save energy and go further than those that are rigid. These diggers might be trying to make their way through rubble at disaster areas, snow after an avalanche, or the sandy soil at the bottom of the ocean.

[Image courtesy of Jesse Silverberg and the other members of the Cornell team: Roslyn D. Noar, Michael S. Packer, Maria J. Harrison, Chris L. Henley, Itai Cohen, and Sharon J. Gerbode.]


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