Research Spotlight: Senior churns out clean water from clay

Maya Whalen-Kipp ’16 shows off her ceramic water filtration project in her studio. Her finished product will be showcased on May 27. (Sarah Chang | Concordiensis)

Q: Describe your project.

A: Fundamentally, this is an interdisciplinary art project with a biology component, My project has plenty of applications to science, engineering and technology. The purpose of my project is to relate human experiences with water and other natural substances. I am building ceramic water filters made out of stonework clay, sawdust and silver. I am working with Professor Jill Salvo to test if this water filtration system will work. My final product will be showcased at an outdoor installation on May 27.


Q: What do you seek to accomplish with your multimedia project?

A: I am trying to create an experience where people feel connected to the earth and water. I want to find out whether I can build a ceramic filter system that works, and I would like to use my piece as a jumping point to relate to water issues. My other goal is to create an installation that is inspired by land art, and seeing how art can have an impact on people’s impressions on nature.


Q: Why did you decide to focus on water issues as a theme?

A: Water rights are something I have always been passionate about. It just makes sense to me. You need clean air and clean water, and everything else comes after that. I was originally interested in this type of water filtration system when I was in Cambodia this past summer doing research. My research was on water management and how it changed from the Khmer Empire to the present day. While in Cambodia, I saw clay being used a lot for water filters. I thought that was really cool and I decided to do my thesis on it.


Q: What do you like most about your project?

A: I like that it is interdisciplinary. My visual arts Professor Fernando Orellana has never worked with a science student before and my biology professor has never worked with an art student before. There are many people involved in making this project a reality which is great!


Q: Describe the progress that you have made.

A: I’ve only started my project this term as this is a winter-spring thesis. I have grown a lot thinking about how art can influence someone’s perspective on something. I have really improved over the past couple of weeks on general techniques. I learned how to do hydrographicing. It involves a very finicky and delicate process of putting a special type of water-soluble paper into an Inkjet Printer. I can then print out any digital image I want on top of it. I want to create digital art out of humans to represent the human connection between earth water and people. I am the first person on campus that has done hydrographicing.


Q: What are your next steps?

A: I just finished building the first trial of filters. My ceramic filters are shaped like circular discs. After firing my clay-crafted filters in the kiln at 1600 degrees Fahrenheit, the sawdust burns away and leaves pore holes that are large enough to let water molecules through, but still small enough to filter out bacteria. Next week, I will start testing the water with Professor Salvo to find out if my pore sizes in my filters are small enough to capture all the bacteria and filter out clean water. I expect my project’s pore sizes would be bigger than what is ideal because this was hand-crafted. To correct for this problem, I have to use silver which is a natural antibiotic that kills off bacteria.


Q: Why did you decide to pursue a Green Grant?

A: That was a great question. Fundamentally, I wanted to make sure that I had a strong environmental component to my project. Even though I could have applied for an IEG or Student Research Grant, I decided to pursue a Green Grant so that I was pushed to maintain a strong environmental component to my project. This helped me keep tabs on the overall direction of my project.


Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

A: Everybody should come to my installation on May 27.




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