Democratizing marine plastic pollution science through DIY instrumentation

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BabyLegs is a build-it-yourself research net (trawl) for monitoring plastic pollution in surface water. The invention was created by Dr. Max Liboiron, Director of Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR) at Memorial University, who is turning the trawl into an accessible kit with an online community forum in partnership with Public Lab for Open Technology.

Created with baby’s tights, soda pop bottles, and other inexpensive and easy-to-find materials, BabyLegs can be used to trawl for floating microplastics from the surface of the water. Because most marine plastics are smaller than a grain of rice, they can be readily ingested by a wide array of marine life, including the animals we use for food. This small size also means we need special instruments to find these plastics. The scientific standard research trawl costs $3500, while BabyLegs costs around $20 and can be built and used by people without scientific degrees and produces similar data.

This project out of the CLEAR Marine Science Lab aims to put the instructions to build, use, and analyze samples from BabyLegs in the hands of people who are concerned about plastics their food and waterways.

PUBLIC LAB FOR OPEN TECHNOLOGY PARTNERSHIP

Public Lab for Open Technology works to "level the data playing field,” making it possible for people to issue rigorously collected, high-quality, local environmental data sets for use alongside government data for verification and advocacy. They do this by building curriculum, hardware, and software; providing space for research and development; and bringing tools to maturity, making them field ready. A BabyLegs kit will be assembled and distributed by Public Lab, which not only crowdfunds the production of the kits, but also hosts a community of practice around BabyLegs that can help people troubleshoot, share concerns, build data across local cases, and remain in contact with the scientists and technologists behind BabyLegs.

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RESEARCH PLAN

  • Crowd-sourcing BabyLegs Kit

  • Validating BabyLegs

  • Building and sustaining a community of practice

PROJECT TEAM

  • DR. MAX LIBOIRON

    Assistant Professor of Geography, Memorial University, is the inventor of BabyLegs and has created its supporting documentation for citizen scientists. To date, online instruction manuals for her various citizen science tools have received over 9,000 unique hits.

  • JEFFREY YOO WARREN

    Warren works at the Public Lab's Providence office and helps people to simplify and refine their open hardware kits as well as supports collaborations between community members and partner organizations developing new environmental monitoring methodologies. He also leads Public Lab's coding community and does illustration and media work, which he will provide for the Kickstarter campaign.

  • BRONWEN DENSMORE

    Densmore works at Public Lab's Brooklyn office, and supports Public Lab's Open Hardware community by helping to match DIY tools to environmental questions, working with open source and DIY tool developers to source and distribute new kits, and organizing workshops and site visits. She is sourcing the materials for the kits, and will maintain the kit store after crowdfunding.

Liboiron and Warren will maintain the online community of BabyLegs users. Densmore will manage the upkeep and distribution of kits and use of kits during workshops and site visits.

Stay tuned for BabyLges Kickstarter page!


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DR. MAX LIBOIRON


Dr. Max Liboiron is an Assistant Professor in  Geography at Memorial University of Newfoundland, where she directs the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR). CLEAR develops anti-colonial methodologies and instruments in the natural sciences by grounding them in Indigenous thought to create place-based and deeply ethical scientific protocols in marine plastic pollution research. Dr. Liboiron has played leading roles in the establishment of the field of Discard Studies (the social study of waste and wasting), the Global Open Science Hardware (GOSH) movement, and is a figure in feminist science studies and justice-oriented citizen science.