THE BUTTERFLY

EFFECT

An exhibition featuring various artistic representations of data on microplastics to help raise awareness on minimizing plastic waste and visualize the invisible.

OVERVIEW

Inspired by structural color in morpho butterflies, The Butterfly Effect visualizes the invisible enemies we fight on a daily basis without conscious realization - microplastics. How might we perceive the accumulation of invisible plastic in and around our bodies? From plastic sculptures and rocks as the new geological marker, clean boots covered in dirty plastic, and a mirror that visualizes the plastic around us, The Butterfly Effect is an interactive experience between humans and nature.

Outcome 

Biomorphic Design

Week long exhibition at Pratt Institute, NY

Design for public awareness 

 

Timeline 

January '21 - May '21

My Role 

Exhibition Design 

Creative Lead 

Design Research

Graphic Design

Fabrication

In Collaboration with  

Dept of Math and Science, Pratt Institute

Mary Lempres, Lab Technician

Dhruv Mishra, Installation

Advisor

Rebecca Welz

Biological strategy poster

CONTEXT

We live in the age of plastic. Our dumps and landfills are full of plastic. Our rivers and oceans have accumulations of plastic on the surface and below. "In the next 60 seconds, people around the world will purchase one million plastic bottles and two million plastic bags. By the end of the year, we will produce enough bubble wrap to encircle the Equator 10 times." [1] 

 

On investigating patterns in news articles and locating repeating keywords, I found that the invisible danger that lies ahead of us includes the breakdown of plastics to microplastics to nanoplastics. These tiny pieces of plastic are difficult to visualize, let alone retrieve. 

 Design Process for The Butterfly Effect

RESEARCH

Unbeknownst to the general public, microplastics are spreading faster than the information about it. As scientists research the exact implications of exposure to these contaminants, I find that demystifying complex data about microplastics and a dissemination of this information will become just as crucial in fighting the problematic areas of, 

  • Invisible pollution - Microplastics are difficult to see with a naked eye, and the ones that come from invisible plastics are almost impossible to detect. This difficulty adds to the list of invisible enemies (global warming, COVID-19) we fight on a daily basis without conscious realization.[3]

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  • Lack of awareness - Research shows that there is a lack of knowledge about microplastics pollution and a lack of comprehension around the potential impacts of this issue, short term and long term. 

Microplastics Pollution

IDEATION

Blue morpho butterflies do not use pigment to create the bright blue color on their wings. Instead, their wings have a layered microstructure that causes light waves that hit the surface of the wing to diffract and interfere with each other, so that certain color wavelengths cancel out while others, such as blue, are intensified and reflected. (Source: ask nature.org) 

PROTOTYPING

The fabrication process included designing and prototyping custom elements and art pieces for the space. Some were achieved through 3D terminology of visual language and hierarchy by Rowena Reed Kostellow's principles. The rest were produced using the wood shop, printing lab and laser cutting facilities at Pratt. 

OUTCOME

A weeklong experiential exhibition which took the audience through a journey of plastic juxtaposed with the lifecycle of a butterfly. Biologizing our perception of plastic through the wings of a butterfly helped visitors visualize the past, present and future of plastic pollution in and around them. This helped raise awareness of impending ecological disasters and shattered public belief on the emergency of the issue. To educate the viewer as opposed to scaring them, the alarming tone was represented in a delicate and beautiful manner through biomorphic design.

Exhibition poster

Design strategy: Looking to nature for strategies to solve for invisible pollution and subsequent lack of awareness

REFERENCES

[1] Quenqua, Douglas. “Microplastics Find Their Way into Your Gut, a Pilot Study Finds.” The New York Times. The New York Times, October 22, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/22/health/microplastics-human-stool.html. 

[2] Lawton, Graham. “We Constantly Eat Microplastics. What Does That Mean for Our Health?” New Scientist. New Scientist, December 11, 2019. https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24432590-300-we-constantly-eat-microplastics-what-does-that-mean-for-our-health/.

[3] Shaw, D M. “Invisible Enemies: Coronavirus and Other Hidden Threats.” Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, Springer Singapore, Dec. 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7445728/.

The task of minimizing or eradicating plastic pollution is one of the most intractable problems in contemporary society. But in this mammoth undertaking of solving for a manmade disruption, perhaps the answer lies in nature and visualization of the environment. Biomimicry has long held the answers to many complex design problems, and biomorphic designs can be very beautiful and beneficial, in part because humans have a natural affinity for nature and natural forms. This inspiration led me to biologize my design strategy by first simply asking - how does nature? 

News Articles: Headlines of news articles on microplastics 

Narrative and Journey Mapping

After successful visualizations of microplastics with polarizing sheets, I decided to move forward with the idea of showcasing the results of my experiments in an informative exhibit format. I began the abstraction process by juxtaposing the lifecycle of a butterfly to that of plastic. And, to add my personal experience of plastic consumption, I designed pieces that would showcase the metamorphosis of plastic degradation at my home, doorstep, and block.  

Design strategy poster

CONCEPT DEVELOPMENT

Refining the idea of an exhibit and finalizing a gallery space at Pratt Institute, I measured the space and began mapping the flow through the space as visitors walked through. Through various critiques, the floor plan was finalized with designated spots for podiums and designed elements. In parallel to this, I developed and printed the posters for the theme of the space. 

Low fidelity sketches for posters

Visualizing the invisible

I was captivated by the beautiful way in which butterflies visualized pollen on flower petals (as shown in the image above). I wondered whether microplastics could be visualized in a similar speckled fashion to perceive their presence around us. Once again, I looked to nature for answers and found them in the structural color of a Morpho Butterfly. 

Wings of Morpho butterflies create color by causing light waves to diffract and interfere

Using a polarizing filter to visualize transparent micro plastic in color under a microscope

Images from the fabrication process

OVERVIEW

Inspired by structural color in morpho butterflies, The Butterfly Effect visualizes the invisible enemies we fight on a daily basis without conscious realization - microplastics. How might we perceive the accumulation of invisible plastic in and around our bodies? From plastic sculptures and rocks as the new geological marker, clean boots covered in dirty plastic, and a mirror that visualizes the plastic around us, The Butterfly Effect is an interactive experience between humans and nature.

Outcome 

Biomorphic Design

Week long exhibition at Pratt Institute, NY

Design for public awareness 

 

Timeline 

January '21 - May '21

My Role 

Exhibition Design 

Creative Lead 

Design Research

Graphic Design

Fabrication

In Collaboration with  

Dept of Math and Science, Pratt Institute

Mary Lempres, Lab Technician

Dhruv Mishra, Installation

Advisor

Rebecca Welz

Metamorphosis of a butterfly juxtaposed with plastic degradation

Interaction flow: Diagramming user journey with points to be designed and fabricated 

Posters for the exhibit

Laser cut polarizing lenses designed as butterfly wings

Visitor interacting with the mirror display

Visitors at the exhibit

Plastic waste is everywhere.

“Tiny particles of plastic are in our food, water and even the air we breathe.” [2] Image Credits- Sarah Wilkins

Invisible to humans: Pollinators like bees and butterflies have the ability to see ultraviolet, which helps them navigate into a flower’s sweet spot. Right Image by Craig Burrows

"These photos capture something we always see, but never can observe." Craig Burrows 

REFLECTION

A lot of the technological and creative pursuits made in recent times have often been an intersection between science and art. A movement that began almost 55 years ago, Sciart (science + art) has now evolved to being synthesized into and giving birth to a variety of fields including design, specifically biodesign. As a result, I believe that the arts and culture, coupled with scientific developments is an optimistic way forward in achieving the transformational change to a sustainable future. It fosters creativity and cultivates new generation leaders that make complex ideas more accessible to general public. 

Low fidelity sketches of the user journey through stages of the exhibit 

Concept sketches for installation art pieces

Floor plan: After site finalization, mapping the asset placement in a 3D space 

Exhibit day

QR codes to the news articles that inspired the accompanying art piece and personal narrative