Electricity from Mud?! Introducing the MudWatt Kit

By Nancy Foote

When a little kid comes up to you and asks you do science, it’s hard to say no.  But when you’re a science teacher, and that little kid is your granddaughter, you know you have to come up with something fast.

In July that’s exactly what happened to me.  I knew my granddaughter wanted something fun and exciting and preferably messy.  We’ve already done bubbles, gak, slime, chromatography, and helicopters, so what was left?

I had a MudWatt kit (a gift from my friends at Educational Innovations, www.TeacherSource.com).  So I decided to give it a try.  What a great idea!

To make a MudWatt clock you need some really stinky mud, a kid who’s willing to help and a little patience, because this takes a few days.

Unsure of what type of mud to use (the smellier the better, the instructions said) I chose to gather some mud from our pond.  I know that there are wonderful microorganisms growing in that mud—they are thriving and surviving.  We looked at the pond water under a microscope for a previous science “lesson.”  Since it was teeming with life, I figured it was a good choice. And that proved to be correct.

I was skeptical to find out that you could make electricity from mud.  I had no idea how it worked—or even if it worked.  The user’s guide not only showed me how to set up the MudWatt clock, it also educated me about why it works.

We used the mud, gloves (which might not be necessary) and set up the clock according to the very clear directions.  I’ll be honest; I was a little disappointed that the light didn’t start blinking immediately.  In some ways I’m no different than my six-year-old granddaughter. I should have read the directions more closely, which explain that it takes 3 to 7 days for it to get going.  When you think about the fact that the exponential growth of microorganisms is required, this time frame makes sense.

Soon after, the red light began to blink and blink and blink and blink.  I quickly downloaded the apps I could see exactly how much power was being generated and how many microorganisms I actually had in that jar of mud.

Every day the blinking gets faster.  The electricity generated gets greater.  And there are more and more microorganisms.

This begs the question about why this is not used as a renewable energy source.  I suppose it’s because the amount of power generated is minute to compare to the amount of mud that’s required.  I’m not a biologist.  I’m a physical scientist, but this really had me very excited.  It’s addictive and fascinating.

In order to run the clock, you have to disconnect the light. That means you can’t use the app to measure the energy. My recommendation? Leave the light on.  Watching it blink faster and faster is addictive—and intriguing.

As a parent/grandparent this is a great tool to use with the kids.  It’s a long-range project so don’t expect results overnight.

As an educator I can’t stop thinking about all the possibilities for this tool.  My students can set these up in series or in parallel.  They can learn about renewable energy sources.  They can discover that there are microorganisms that actually expel electrons (something I didn’t even know was possible). We can learn about dependent variables and independent variables.  We can examine exponential growth—and really big numbers. The possibilities are endless.

If you’re looking for a science fair project, MudWatt is it.  Perhaps you want to test the pH of the soil vs. the amount of energy that is produced.  Perhaps you’ll test that temperature of the soil versus the amount of energy that is produced.  Perhaps you do want to conduct an experiment about series vs. parallel circuits.

I recommend this for parents and grandparents, for teachers and students.  I recommended for the person is hard to buy a gift for.  I’m fascinated with it.  Priced at under \$40, it’s a steal.  You can get your own MudWatt Kit here.

I’m so glad that little girl came over and said “Nana can we do some science today?”

Nancy Foote is a middle school physics teacher in Arizona. She is a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, as well as an Arizona master teacher.  Nancy’s YouTube channel can be found at www.YouTube.com/nancyfootehigley.

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