Week 6 midterm presentation – the Pathogenometer


For our first assignment, I chose fresh water. It’s a very broad topic, with so many different topics and areas of interest within it. Privatization, inaccessibility, virtual water and bottled water are all issues I gravitated towards.

As I read, and at least thought I formed a project idea, I was asking myself many questions which included:

-       How has the Anthropocene affected fresh water?

-       What are the issues with drinking water worldwide and who has problems accessing sanitary water?

o   1 in 9 people world wide don’t have adequate drinking water

o   1 in 5 deaths to children under 5 is due to water-related disease

o   Every day 4,000 children die from illnesses like diarrhea, dysentery, and cholera caused by dirty water and unhygienic living conditions.

-       If so many people are sick or dying from water, what needs to be done?


As greatly outlined in previous blog posts, I thought a satirical juxtaposition of selling dirty water would be effective, but I don’t think that answered the last question, in any way, which is maybe what I had wanted to at least allude to if not solve.

From speaking to Abby Silver at Potters for Peace, she didn’t really make the problem seem incredibly difficult to solve. Not that it’s at all easy, but what people in areas where safe drinking water isn’t available is education and tools. The tools, are pretty straightforward – to sanitize water properly you either need to filter it, disinfect it, or boil it.

Filtering is a topic that’s been addressed through Potter’s for Peace and other organizations. Disinfecting has also been addressed through groups like the Water Project, aiming to make treatment facilities in underprivileged communities. However, besides some information from the World Health Organization, boiling information is relatively scarce. Of course, it’s the option that requires the most carbon output by making heat to boil it. But in times of emergency, or if nothing else is available, it’s important to be aware of. And I was most shocked when confronted with the WHO Boiling Guide that water doesn’t need to reach a full boil to make pathogens inactive.

This led me to make the tool ‘The Pathogenometer’, which, based on temperature and duration let’s the user know when 22 different pathogens have been made inactive in the water, if they were in there in the first place. It includes sicknesses that can arise from the different pathogens. It also could be made very cheaply using a thermometer, micro-processor, and display. As you can, in theory, just boil water for a few minutes to make pathogens inactive (to a high log reduction), this isn’t an essential piece of technology. But I think of it as a useful tool for the Anthropocene – as our daily lives endure more shock and disruption, in times of emergency it’s a worthwhile device to have on hand.


From the WHO Boiling Guide:

Reasons to boil water:

  • failure of control measures, including lack of or improper disinfection and unsafe handling and storage;
  • emergencies and disasters leading to inadequate sanitation, hygiene and protection of water sources; and
  • uncertain quality of water sources when travelling.


A number of proven water treatment methods exist for the removal or inactivation of microbial pathogens, including chemical disinfection, filtration, flocculation/disinfection and heat. Boiling is one heat method. It is highly efficacious, killing human pathogens even in turbid water and at high altitude.


Worthwhile quotes from Abby Silver, U.S. Director of Potters For Peace:

“The PFP model ceramic water filter (CWF) is designed to remove bacteria.”

“I think the water can look like anything, from clear to brown and muddy.  It’s all about what is living in it.”


Screencap from program (to come, I’m sorry, since taking it apart on presentation day my sketch isn’t running)

WHO Boiling Water Pathogens:

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 9.30.50 PM Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 9.30.40 PM

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 9.30.50 PM

Post Mortem:

I’m not satisfied with my final outcome from the project. I do value the process, and I learned a lot from that. But I feel like I got so consumed with my ‘dirty water’ idea that my mind wasn’t open enough to trying to find other ideas, make other connections, and explore the topic more. Once I finally found flaws in the idea, I had minimal time to form a new idea. I’m much more happy with this project, but I still think, in hindsight, I would’ve like to focus more on virtual water, and try to do system mapping and brainstorming for that and see what I end up with.

For the next round, I know I need to tackle the topic broadly with an open mind, and see where my mind goes. But don’t settle on any random idea that comes my way, and go through the process and see where that leads. I’m hopeful because I have a pretty good idea of the medium I want, that I can think in terms of that, and find a story that speaks to me and will be able to be explored through interactive storytelling.

I really do value the process, I just wish I had come up with something better/more polished/more creative/more universal. I kind of feel like the Pathogenometer really verges the line between installation piece/satire to raise awareness and an actual useful tool. I think from feedback I created the program and presentation like it was a useful piece of technology (name excluded, that’s a bit of a joke). However, as I noted that it’s a little excessive with boiling water, maybe it’s just a more useful show piece of some sort to help educate people about what’s in water everywhere, and what we need to worry about when other sanitation methods aren’t present.

  • Marina Zurkow says:

    I am hoping you can break down the process you used, and think about tactics to develop work – new processes? ones that will open your ideas up, maybe create some faster dead ends, delight you, unstick you, and generate more ideas so you feel less hemmed in quickly. part of that is recognizing your ideas within a field of ideas (the “what is it like?” question) and then imagining applying any one of your ideas to a variety of audience/contexts.

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