This video demonstrates the development and potential use of the fountain, as well as show the final result.
Motivation and goals
In reflecting on my motivations for creating a fountain, I went back through my documentation this semester and found a question from a long time ago that I thought encapsulated my thread of thinking the past few weeks: Can I create a visual and gustatory experience using algae that upends people’s perceptions about their rate of consumption and gives them a visceral understanding of their body in relation to the food systems that sustain human life? Some major inspirations for this were Rebecca Bray & Britta Riley’s DrinkPeeDrinkPeeDrinkPee and Stefani Bardin’s M2A™:The Fantastic Voyage.
I don’t think I succeeded in creating something that did this, but I do think it touched on my goals. I also think this phrasing got away (usefully) from the many details of nutrient pollution and recycling and articulated something that I could affect, even if I subsequently lost site of this asking smaller, related questions and getting things to work. So, I presented the fountain as a way I could address this question, and a way to built knowledge for designing interventions using algae in the future.
I chose to continue working with algae since I learned so much growing it and it has such varied species, potential, and uses. I had chlorella and spirulina that could both be used to try out this fountain idea. There were some practical questions that needed proof of concept:
- Would it be too much of a mess?
- Would the way I imagined the grow light working hurt people’s eyes to look at when the algae were at low biomass? How could I mitigate this?
- Would the pump work with material besides water running through it?
- Would the algae be hurt by being pushed through a pump? Chlorella and spirulina both do need some agitation but that doesn’t preclude this potential problem.
Some other design considerations:
- How worried should I be/how could I address the potential for contamination?
- How should this thing look? What should be the final form? And if I’m trying to use as much recycled material as possible, how lenient can I be?
My final fountain was made with:
- A deconstructed grow light that I bought, took apart, and re-soldered to be used more easily
- A small water pump
- Vinyl tubing
- Acrylic scrap & recycled acrylic from ITP’s shop dumpster
- Scrap wood from ITP’s shop dumpster
- A found/borrowed bowl: I was thinking of using recycled acrylic for this as well but this proved unfeasible (at least in the time I had)–this bowl was about the shape I was looking for
Some useful questions from classmates & reviewers:
I got some positive feedback about it being beautiful and meditative. Marina thought the crazy straw (which serves the double-function of replicating the shape of spirulina at the microscopic level) successfully suggested drinking, so I did at least one thing right. I also got a several helpful suggestions, comments, and questions:
- Is this a model towards the future, a home scaled solution to address nutrient pollution or a critique on the state of our water?
- Should explain terms like bioreactor and biomass for laypeople
- Could develop the stories/drama around cyanobacteria
- Algae grosses people out unless they’re into superfoods
- Should function and in it’s function also communicate this is about growing algae and consumption
- Could be educational
- Is the idea that we should drink out of this? One person said the openness of the fountain would make them hesitant to drink it
- How do I imagine people would actually drink out of it? Could the ‘crazy straw’ also be functional?
- Could incorporate “aesthetics of contamination”
- If not drinking, then fertilizer? What other functions? Use as fertilizer may lessen the limitations around contamination
- Do I imagine this being sold, or releasing instructions for DIY-ers?
References have been updated.
Throughout the semester I was also experimenting with microscopy. I moved way from this from the final but I still would like to do a project creating microscopic worlds using tools like unity or processing. I would still like to find a way to create an inexpensive way to capture automated microscopic video. I made a simple site to click through my daily practice images.
Since I’ve created a sort of bioreactor that works at a small scale, I think it would be interesting to continue adding useful functionality that would allow people to actually grow algae this way. Some steps to consider in making this a viable sort of product:
- A way to monitor nutrient availability would be useful–how do you know when to add medium, urine, water, etc, to keep your algae growing?
- There should be a way to monitor growth/biomass so that people know when their algae are ready for harvest.
- I should develop an easy way to periodically harvest the algae. I found some research suggesting I could explore solutions that use: coffee filters, a centrifuge, or altering the pH of the algae medium.
Some steps for developing this project and determining feasibility:
- Figure out how to test for contaminants during algae growth
- Figure out whether there’s a way to filter the algae such that the water resulting from the process is drinkable
I don’t know where this last note fits, but someone recently pointed me to Water Tower by Rachel Whiteread, which I thought was another interesting way to rethink water and resources in a city.