Social-cultural experimentation

One of several projects I have pitched my collaborators is to perform a sort of social-cultural experiment to see what happens to people in response to their use of one of the technologies being created in the NanoBioSensing Laboratory. Using one of the scientific projects that is quite far along in its development process means we can produce a wearable mock up of the technology and observe it in a simulated real-world situation. I am planning a film around the experiment.

The technology in question is the paper-based UV sensing system I introduced in my last post. It’s used to help people of different skin colour know when they have had either too much harmful UV, or not enough Vitamin D inducing rays. The ink is chemically designed to develop at different rates, and to help determine how much is too much, or not enough, UV exposure. Scientists are designing wearable systems that are intended for use in scenarios such as music festivals. Here is more detail from my collaborators. A key component of the technology is the Fitzpatrick scale (see the above poster section titled “UV exposure limit for people with different skin color”). Developed in the 1975 by Thomas Fitzpatrick, the numerical scale classes people according to eye, hair and skin colouring. For this UV sensing technology to be accurate, people must class themselves, or be classed, correctly on the scale. The different classes are:

  • Type I (scores 0–6) always burns, never tans (palest; freckles).
  • Type II (scores 7–13) usually burns, tans minimally
  • Type III (scores 14–20) sometimes mild burn, tans uniformly
  • Type IV (scores 21–27) burns minimally, always tans well (moderate brown)
  • Type V (scores 28–34) very rarely burns, tans very easily (dark brown)
  • Type VI (scores 35–36) never burns (deeply pigmented dark brown to darkest brown)

In planning the filming I have run an experiment with the ink to understand how long the whole process will take and therefore how long to enlist volunteers for the shoot. I mixed the two active parts of the ink together and performed a series of dilutions. I dropped this onto filter paper, placed them into the sun, and waited for the colour change. This was a rough qualitative observation, looking to see how long it took for the ink to be visible (one and a half hours for the undiluted ink, many more hours for the dilutions, rendering them unusable).

In preparing for the film I also did a test run with a drone and its onboard camera. The drone is great for my purpose — it will provide an incredibly stable birds eye view shots of the crowd for 30 minutes at a time for the duration of the experiment. (See this short video and this one.) We will likely shoot the experiment in November or December, once the sun is stronger and more reliable. If you are interested in participating, watch this space!

In creating this social experiment, which I expect will have segregative social effects based on race, I am not stating that the health benefits of this technology are invalid, or that the technology should not be developed. However, it is said to be difficult to understand how technologies might affect humankind, the way we think about reality, the way we relate to each other, and the effects on our psychology. This project is an attempt to speculate, consider, and critique, ahead of time, the nuances of these effects.

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