Catch a glimpse of Katy Ayers paddling her canoe on a Nebraska lake this summer season and also you may do a double take.
At first look, her 8-foot vessel seems very similar to another canoe — similar rectangular form, similar pointed ends, similar capacity to drift on water.
However upon nearer inspection, it’s clearly something however odd: Ayers’ canoe is made out of mushrooms.
Extra particularly, her boat is created from mycelium, the dense, fibrous roots of the mushroom that sometimes reside beneath the soil. Ayers, 28, a scholar at Central Neighborhood Faculty in Columbus, Nebraska, even gave her creation a becoming identify: “Myconoe.”
Although Ayers has taken the canoe out for a number of quasi-recreational excursions — and plans to take action once more as quickly because the climate warms up within the rural a part of Nebraska the place she lives — her actual aim with the eye-catching venture is to lift broader consciousness about mushrooms. She is a part of a rising motion of mushroom advocates, individuals who imagine these squishy, typically edible fungi will help resolve a few of our most urgent environmental issues.
Along with their capacity to interrupt down dangerous pollution and chemical compounds, Ayers identified that mushrooms can be utilized for all the things from family insulation to furnishings to packaging, changing plastics, Styrofoam and different supplies which might be onerous to recycle and dangerous to the atmosphere.
“Mushrooms are right here to assist us — they’re a present,” Ayers stated. “There’s a lot we will do with them past simply meals; it’s so limitless. They’re our greatest ally for serving to the atmosphere.”
Mushrooms aren’t precisely mainstream, although citizen scientists like Ayers and a few non-public corporations hope to sometime change that. The New York-based biotech firm Ecovative Design, as an example, has made headlines for its mushroom-based packaging materials, which has been deployed by corporations comparable to Ikea and Dell. Mushrooms are getting used on the native stage to assist clear up poisonous particles and contaminated soil — a course of often called mycoremediation — however up to now haven’t been adopted on a bigger scale.
Ayers by no means paid a lot consideration to mushrooms till she enrolled in 2018 on the faculty in Columbus, a small metropolis with round 23,000 residents. Throughout her first semester, an English teacher challenged college students to search out and examine a possible answer to local weather change.
Throughout her analysis, Ayers got here throughout a 2013 documentary referred to as “Tremendous Fungi,” which made the case for mushrooms as an environmental ally and highlighted a few of their revolutionary makes use of.
Ayers was bought on the facility of mushrooms immediately. Having discovered that mycelium is buoyant and waterproof, she determined to strive utilizing it to create a ship.
“I at all times have very massive concepts,” she stated. “So I see one thing and it’s small and I simply need to make it larger and higher. Since I’m from Nebraska, I like to fish. I’ve at all times needed a ship. Why not simply develop it?”
With a mini-grant from the school, Ayers set to work. She reached out to a mushroom firm in close by Grand Island for assist, sharing her concept with proprietor Ash Gordon. He agreed to assist instantly and provided her a summer season internship so she might study the ins and outs of fungi.
In the course of the day, Ayers labored alongside Gordon at Nebraska Mushroom, doing lab work, creating spawn and harvesting, packaging and processing mushrooms.
After ending their work for the day, the 2 turned their consideration to the canoe venture. They first constructed a wood skeleton and a hammock-like construction to droop the boat-shaped kind within the air.
They subsequent sandwiched the boat’s skeleton with mushroom spawn and let nature take over.
For 2 weeks, the fledgling canoe hung inside a particular rising room in Gordon’s facility, the place temperatures ranged between 80 and 90 levels and the humidity hovered between 90 to 100 p.c. The final step within the course of was to let the 100-pound boat dry within the Nebraska solar.
All advised, Ayers stated she spent $500 on spawn, instruments and gear to construct the canoe.
Ayers, who displayed her “Myconoe” on the 2019 Nebraska State Truthful, has taken the canoe out for 3 take a look at floats, together with one through which two individuals comfortably sat inside. The boat continues to be alive, which suggests it fruits — grows mushrooms — every time they take it out for a paddle.
The profitable mycelium canoe impressed Ayers and Gordon to experiment with making chairs, landscaping bricks and different objects.
Although it began as a hands-on studying alternative for Ayers in the middle of her collegiate research, the canoe has additionally served as a unusual conduit for conversations about mushrooms.
“It’s not only a piece of artwork, this can be a functioning boat that works,” Gordon, 39, stated. “It actually helps bridge that hole between individuals who didn’t have an curiosity in mushrooms — possibly they don’t wish to eat mushrooms and actually haven’t considered different potential makes use of for them. The boat gave them one thing to take a look at and take into consideration.”
Now Ayers is sharing her newfound fungi fabrication information with different college students on the neighborhood faculty. She’s a part of Rising Pathways to STEM, a full-ride scholarship program funded by the Nationwide Science Basis that goals to assist low-income and underserved undergraduates finding out science, know-how, engineering and math.
Ayers is main one of many cohort’s essential analysis tasks: constructing bee accommodations, small buildings additionally referred to as nests or properties, from mycelium.
Impressed by analysis from Washington State College, which discovered that honeybees who consumed mycelium extract had decrease ranges of a dangerous virus, Ayers and her classmates hope to raised perceive the results of mycelium on Nebraska’s solitary bees.
Although the neighborhood faculty closed all campus buildings in early April to stop the unfold of the coronavirus, Ayers is maintaining the venture alive in her basement whereas taking on-line lessons.
Along with her full-time course load, Ayers works because the neighborhood faculty’s sustainability intern, maintaining tabs on power use throughout the neighborhood faculty system’s seven campuses and facilities.
The internship, which Ayers has additionally been capable of proceed remotely, and self-led mushroom analysis tasks are simply the beginning: After graduating with an affiliate’s diploma in science, Ayers plans to earn a bachelor’s diploma in biology and, later, a doctorate in mycology.
And after that? Save the planet.
“She has an innate need to vary the world,” stated Lauren Gillespie, a organic sciences teacher at Central Neighborhood Faculty and Ayers’ adviser. “She believes that she will be able to do it, and I imagine that she will be able to do it.”