Alumna invents the ‘Tree of Life’


Picture yourself walking down a street in your favorite city. You cast a worried glance down at your phone at the sound of a sad little beep. What! Only 2 percent battery left! How could this happen?

What are you going to do? Where, in this gigantic city, are you going to charge your phone so you can keep Instagramming your vacation? It is imperative that you are able to take selfies to let everyone know how much fun you are having!

Up ahead you see a strange, yet amazing-looking tree. “What is that?” you wonder. As you get closer you see a couple of people sitting and talking…..and, charging their phones! Eureka! It’s a technology oasis in an electrical outlet desert.

selena_2-BOSomeday very soon the ‘Tree of Life’ will be a reality thanks to Upper Iowa University alumna Selena Davant ’12 and fellow Academy of Art University graduate student Alan Shpakovski. The team’s invention and design earned them first-place gold in Adweek’s first ever Isaac+ student competition as part of its annual Project Isaac Awards. The Project Isaac Awards search for great inventive projects around the globe. In its inaugural Isaac+ competition, Davant and Shpakovski’s Tree of Life was chosen out of 37 entries.

Matt Powell, Chief Information Officer, of Adweek said, “What I liked about the Tree of Life was that it felt like it was trying to come from a place of purpose, of getting people to think differently about energy conservation, and it was doing it in a way that was going to add inspiration and excitement and the creative energy to the cities where it will be placed.”

Davant, who will graduate with a master’s in advertising art direction in May 2015 from the Academy, spent last summer with Shpakovski in New York City. The pair worked with KBS+, the co-sponsor of the Isaac+ awards, at its in-house ‘maker lab’ making their dream become a reality.

Davant and Shpakovski were hands-on in the lab, working through the design to creation process. “We built one leaf out of plywood, as well as a small-scale mock-up of the Tree of Life out of wire and clay,” said Davant. “Another scaled version was printed in 3-D, and finally we programmed the touch sensors for the half-section of trunk we built. The trunk is sensitive to touch; if someone touches it, it will change color. This is one of the unexpected features of the tree.”

A second leaf and another cross-section of the trunk was built by SFDS, a Brooklyn-based fabrication and design company. Now, Davant and Shpakovski are tasked with the job of finding funding to construct the entire tree.

Using solar energy, Davant’s vision for the Tree of Life is one where, in addition to supplying a place to charge our phones or tablets on the fly, it could be so much more. “There is so much potential with the tree,” she said. “It could create heat or water or whatever is needed – all by using the sun.

“We are blending science, technology, biomimicry and art together. We want the tree to be as organic as possible.”

Each leaf on the tree is a solar cell that turns into a power station in an effort to make green energy more omnipresent in everyday life. While building the tree, Davant and Shpakovski researched solar energy, the best material to construct the tree and possible vendors to build the tree once they are ready for production. They also learned to program the tree to perform its amazing feats.

Davant, who grew up in French Guiana and later moved to France, found Upper Iowa University working through an agency that connects French college students with universities in the United States.  Based on what she major she wanted, which was communications, Davant narrowed down a list to 10 schools. She chose Upper Iowa because it was in the middle of the country, and looking back on that decision, she knows it was the right one.

“The three best years of my life were at Upper Iowa,” she said. “I’m very glad I experienced life in the Midwest. I learned a lot about the cultural diversity present in the United States from going to Upper Iowa. I met people from Illinois, Florida, Virginia, California, Asia, Thailand and Africa. I also learned the fundamentals of the United States from living in Fayette.”

Davant was active on campus and was a member of the Beta Theta Omega sorority. After graduation, she moved to San Francisco to attend the Academy. Once she earns her master’s, Davant will move to New York City where she plans to work in the entertainment industry and pursue the Tree of Life project.

“Working on the tree was a intense experience,” she laughed. “But, living in New York for those three months really changed my vision of life. New York is full of interesting people and artistic people. I like being a young entrepreneur, and I feel that I can work and focus on the next step to making the Tree of Life a reality.”

To watch Davant and Shpakovski in action as they work on the Tree of Life in the KBS+ lab, go to


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