Next event:
ERINN SAVAGE – Performance
Tomorrow 15:00 GMT

The bigger picture kit consists of a river sampling kit that allows the user to take water samples from their local rivers; and a microplastics analysis kit that allows them to test this sample for plastics. Freshwater environments vary greatly ,due to human and non-human influence and because of this so too do the citizen access points, It was essential that the kit could be used safely resulting in the development of a bridge and bank deploying method. The materials were chosen using CES analysis thus minimise the negative social and environmental impact of the materials and manufacture, coupled with a renting business model, creates a sustainable product.

Once data is collected by the citizens using the sampling and analysis kit it is added onto a data sharing platform. This data sharing platform allows for large scale comparison of levels of micro and nano plastic pollution that would otherwise not be possible with traditional sampling method - creating a broader and deeper understanding, while engaging groups through doing so. The site is designed to be easy to add new points of data, add to existing points using data hierarchy while being highly visually impact of the larger picture.

I started this project by looking into how societies and individuals interact and relate to rivers as an example of our unbalanced relationships with ecological systems. I choose this example due to the breadth and depth at which rivers have and do cross through societies. My research developed into gaining an understanding of how river health is defined, measured and the current threats to freshwater ecology. I found through a range of interviews, river visits and literature that comparison of rivers under analysis to rivers (or models) unaffected by human interaction is essential to understanding river health (Milne. Ian, SEPA, 2019, Karr, 1999). Also, that as other pollution levels are decreasing micro-plastics pollution has been increasing at an alarming rate within rivers having a deadly impact on the freshwater ecosystem of which the extent is not known.

Qualitative research was fundamental to the development of this project. I used this method to understand social-political, biological and hydraulic aspects of the problem of micro-plastics in fresh water systems. There is a lack of understanding of the abundance, fate, behaviour and effect of microplastics on and in freshwater systems (Anderson et al., 2016; Dris et al., 2018; Liedermann et al., 2018; Tibbetts et al., 2018). This is in part due to the complexity of interactions within environmental systems, the limited number of studies relative to this and the lack of standardization which in turn leads to a lack of ability to compare results and create a cohesive understanding. River health is improved through a relationship between monitoring and research resulting in an increase in both public and political awareness of the issue that can drive change. This makes the lack of understanding not just a problem in and of itself but when put into context of how river health is improved it becomes clear that it is a critical problem.

The first iteration of prototypes was based on the manta net/trawl - a method of allowing river water to pass through netting to capture both fragments and fibres - commonly used to sample microplastics in freshwater. The popularity of this method is evident - a 2017 paper reviewing microplastic freshwater systems sampling methods reported 50% use (Li et al., 2018). This however did not pick up plastics in part due to the resistance of the net and the structure in the water, which led to the idea generation and testing of a pump that would pull the water up faster than the speed of the flow therefore removing the resistance and positive hydraulic pressure within the inlet. When samples where analysed it was seen that there was plastic suspended in the sediment.

I performed lab analysis of the river samples taken using prototypes to ensure the scientific weight of the data collected and to test the user experience of analysis. The results from this were shocking, even after reading round the issue and having an understanding of the problem, testing local rivers that I have an emotional connection with was deeply upsetting. Finding an abundance of micro and nano plastics in a rural glen with no settlements in the river basin suggests that these plastics are well established in the water system while a test in the River Kelvin (results above) show the dramatic existent of the pollution.

The ergonomic aspects (anthropometrics, physiology and psychology) of the design were considered in detail through out the design to ensure that the whole user journey of this citizen science kit and surrounding system where safe, enjoyable and fulfilling to the users. These aspects where tested through interviews and prototype tests such as the one seen above where the kit was taken to Curiosity Live in the Glasgow Science Centre an event attended by 500 school children where it received positive feedback and enthusiastic engagement from students and teachers.