Anyone visiting the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga will be treated with a nice Christmas surprise. An electric eel, named Miguel Wattson, has been lightning up a nearby Christmas tree just outside his tank. Miguel’s tank has been hooked up with a special system that allows his electrical discharges to power up the lights whenever he’s experiencing some sort of excitement.

Miguel Wattson, an electric eel at the Tennessee Aquarium, can light up a Christmas tree with bursts of electricity from his body. (Image Credit: Tennessee Aquarium, YouTube)


However, what’s actually happening here is a bit different than what it seems like. The sensors the aquarium hooked up in the tank are able to measure the strength of the eel’s electric discharges to then adjust the lights on the Christmas tree. Miguel Wattson isn’t actually powering the lights, but instead, the glowing intensity of the lights is set to correspond to the electricity the eel’s body generates. Leads connect the tank to an amplifier and LED meter. The electric eel doesn’t power the display, but it does help visitors gain a better understanding of how eels vary underwater bursts of electricity.


The eel only releases small amounts of voltage whenever he tries to find food. This causes the Christmas tree lights to dim while blinking rapidly. Bigger flashes of the lights are caused due to higher voltage shocks emitting from his body whenever Miguel is eating or feels excited.


The aquarium also setup Miguel with his own Twitter account, which posts tweets from the eel. It only posts whenever the sensors detect a strong discharge over certain amperage. A team from Tennessee Tech’s Business Media Center helped to control how much the eel can tweet. Miguel discharges a small amount of energy a lot of times, which can result in a lot of tweeting. To limit this, the tech team developed a computer-coded “fuse-box” that restricts how often Miguel tweets throughout the day. The code was written in Python while the project’s main piece was written in Raspberry Pi.


It’s possible for the eel to power up the lights, even if it’s not actually doing so. Large electric eels have the ability to discharge between 10 to 850 volts in one release, which could power up numerous DC 40-watt light bulbs for one second. Although the system indirectly powers the tree, I suspect direct powering is possible too. The inconsistency of the power supply, the eel, is very much like most alternative energy systems. First collect all power and store it in some way. I think spinning a mass might do the trick nicely. The eel drives a motor periodically. Then, recollect the power in reverse. If every light on the tree was an LED, it would totally work!



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