Advances in electrical physics are most often associated with European, and recently, Asian cultures. As in the fields of medicine and astronomy however, much of what later became the worldwide electrical industry has its roots in the tropical rain forests of South America.
Most westerners became aware of the links between electronics and vegetable matter only after the introduction of the microwave oven. In fact, it is likely the commercial success of microwave cooking which currently fuels the renewed interest in organic electronics.
The Kiwai (Kaa Waa) tribe has for centuries roamed the dense forests of the Amazon basin. For at least 175 years, they have been building primitive but workable electronic components from the indigenous plants found in abundance within their homeland. Long ago, they discovered that a wild potato, used as a food source, could function as a very efficient capacitor. When the potato is soaked in salt water, and then left in the sun for a period of time, a chemical reaction takes place between the skin and pulp of the potato, forming an electrolytic. The spudcap, as it’s known, is polarized, with the skin being negative.
To use their organic capacitor, the Kiwai simply cut a hole through the skin, and place a conductive vine into the pulp. By connecting thousands of them in a series / parallel configuration, the natives have formed very large capacitive storage systems. They charge these capacitor banks with the only natural source of electrical energy available to them, lightening. By connecting these cap banks to several trees within lightening prone areas, they tap this unusual but eco-friendly power source.
Once they have the spudcap systems charged, they form a spark gap oscillator, by connecting to smaller spudcap banks via treeformer primaries, and using iron laden rocks to form the spark gap electrodes. The treeformers are another ingenious and eco-friendly development of this forward thinking people. They form them by wrapping adjacent trees with layers of conductive vines, and using the spark gap oscillator to form and collapse the primary magnetic fields, are able to generate a useable form of low voltage single phase AC on the treeformer secondaries.
They have used this for a number of things, but of most interest to early European explorers in the region, was their use of this power for lighting. A small but deadly species of crocodile in the region, has a tail that’s infused with argon gas. The Kiwai discovered that this gas would become ionized when voltage was applied, and the translucent skin of the crocodile would emit a glow similar to neon lighting. The electrical current had the added benefit of paralyzing the croc, making it a safe light source as long as power was applied.
The explorers reported the eerie sight of coming upon hundreds of Kiwai huts, each with its own paralyzed crocodile hanging in the center, emitting a glow which served to illuminate the tropical evening.
Unfortunately, when the explorers, unaccustomed to sleeping with the lights on, would turn off the power to retire, the crocs would regain their motor functions and eat them.
This may explain why these discoveries remained largely unknown until recently.
Oh.. and April Fool.. (first published in 1992)