You’ve probably seen the story about how a group of teenagers showed that plants won’t grow next to a WiFi router. We did our own experiment, but first some things to consider about the story making the rounds:
- They tested whether cress seeds would germinate near a wi-fi router.
- The seeds by the router DID grow, just not as well as the control group.
- The photos accompanying the news articles I saw don’t match the photos that appear in the report. They actually look like a before and after set.
- It was done a year ago, in spring 2013.
- It was a school science project. That’s not a knock, they did some good things like sending traffic through the router to make sure it was actually transmitting, and mixing seeds from multiple packets together to eliminate differences between batches.
- As with all science, the results need to be repeated in more experiments with rigorous controls to be sure they accounted for all variables.
- I couldn’t find a followup study in all the blind repostings of the original OMGWIFI claims, though I did find a discussion at JREF. If you can read past the annoyingly dismissive comments, you’ll also find some insightful remarks and links to the actual presentation (in Danish, so it’s tricky to read, but they have charts and photos)…and a few anecdotal stories by people who use the heat from their wireless routers to HELP germinate seeds!
After we read up on this, Katie decided to do a simple experiment herself. She put seeds next to our router, on top of our refrigerator, next to the TV, and for a control, outside. She found that the seeds placed next to our router did just fine — considerably better than those left outside, and slightly better than those placed elsewhere around the house.
Each bag contained one kidney bean, one black-eyed pea, and one seed from the red bell pepper I cut up for dinner. I put a section of select-a-size paper towel, folded twice, in each and set the seeds inside the second fold. Each bag got 15 mL of Brita filtered water and the air was squeezed out before sealing. Then I left them around the apartment for several days to see if they’d sprout. This is a picture of what resulted.
I wonder if the seeds in the school experiment just dried out. Katie sealed her seeds in plastic bags, which allowed radiation to pass through, but trapped moisture. As I understand it, the students watered their seeds throughout the experiment, but it’s possible the trays dried out overnight. Comparing moisture content/retention would be an interesting follow-up.
Obviously, this isn’t any more rigorous than the original experiment. But it shows that the results they found are the beginning of the process, not the last word. More importantly, it’s something you can easily test yourself if you’re so inclined. Next time you see a startling claim that’s something you can test without too much trouble, try checking it out for yourself.
Incidentally: We planted the seeds in our patio yesterday. With any luck, they’ll do as well as our tomatoes (and better than our poor carrots) this year!