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Saturday, May 8, 2021

String sculpture raises awareness of ‘Silent Killer’

He was hunched over on his toes, trying not to disturb the forest of wooden stakes he had planted in a circle on the lawn outside the Art Annex building. There were thousands of them, 2,050 to be exact.

Junior Olin Nespor wove white string among the stakes into an intricate pattern. The size and shape of the webbed figure was supposed to represent the width of a hair. Within the shape, another circle was woven together, representing the size of particulate matter.

Nespor’s goal was to raise awareness about the dangers of particulate matter, a pollutant with a size and obscurity that gives it the name “the silent killer,” Nespor said.

Particulate matter is a term for a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air and is emitted by power plants, industry and automobiles, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

As of 2016, Whatcom County has an average daily particulate matter reading of 11.8 micrograms per cubic meter, the highest in the state, according to a study done by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Because of its size, particulate matter is known to cause cancer and was estimated to be responsible for 3.7 million premature deaths worldwide in 2012, according to the World Health Organization.

Nespor used his string art to show the comparison in size between particulate matter, typically considered to be particles of 2.5 micrometers in diameter and a piece of hair which is 30 times larger in diameter.

Nespor’s string installation was part of a project for his design class. The project was formed to bring attention to a fictional company called Zephyr. As part of the project, Nespor designed plans for his made-up company to manufacture small devices that would measure the amount of particulate matter in the air. The information would then be uploaded to an app that collects the data and offers statistics about the air quality in that region.

As of 2016, Whatcom County has an average daily particulate matter reading of 11.8 micrograms per cubic meter, the highest in the state, according to a study done by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The national air quality standard is 35 micrograms per cubic meter; anything below that is not considered dangerous. The average national reading is 8.77 micrograms per cubic meter.

Since his project was difficult to understand without an explanation, people guessed it represented anything from planets colliding to conception, Nespor said.

“But once I explained it, people were either curious for more information or they had personal stories to tell about it,” Nespor said.

Nespor’s original assignment was to create a point-of-purchase piece, like a small box or sign, that advertised a product and could be placed near a checkstand.

However, as a proponent for sustainability, Olin thought the point-of-purchase piece created unnecessary waste and he wanted to use his projects to raise awareness about sustainability.

“I’ve had so many people come up and just wonder what the hell I’m doing.”

Junior Olin Nespor

Junior Olin Nespor's finished project, with 2,050 wooden stakes, sits in the lawn outside of the Art Annex on Sunday, May 8. Particulate matter, the focus of the project, is a pollutant known to cause cancer, according to the World Health Organization. // Photo by Laura Ann Poehner

Instead, his professor, Paula Airth, allowed him to design a piece to draw attention to his product and the reasons behind it, thus the string art installation.

“It was great to hear him relate the experience of installing it and how many different people he was able to talk about this project with, which was exactly the reason that he proposed doing it, to raise awareness,” Airth said.

While Zephyr does not exist, Nespor said the device it was supposed to create does. Aircasting is a company that is developing one such product and a link to its website can be found here.

Nespor said his goal for the string art project was “to get people to ask questions about particulate matter.”

Zephyr may be fake, but Nespor said the hype the project has created isn’t.

“It works, by the way,” Nespor said. “I’ve had so many people come up and just wonder what the hell I’m doing.”

When all was said and done, Nespor spent 10 hours on the project, used 3,120 feet of string and 2,050 stakes. He was also able to complete the piece with just one break in the string, which was because he ran out of string.

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