“As scientists, my students had to use a liberal arts mindset combining chemistry, sociology, and psychology to explore how they could impact these canal communities for the better.”
Prof. Katie Purvis-Roberts
Bangkok’s khlongs: The historic canal system connecting residents across the city is also a mode of transport that sustains a vibrant floating market culture. Over time, many khlongs have been filled in or become so polluted as to inhibit their use. But what if science could be used to revive some of those khlongs and their surroundings—and consequently improve the lives of neighbors along the waterways?
That was the challenge Professor of Chemistry and Environmental Science Katie Purvis-Roberts put to her students in fall 2020. With funding from The Claremont College’s EnviroLab Asia initiative, environmental chemistry students from Claremont McKenna, Scripps, and Pitzer teamed up with graduate-level design students at Bangkok’s King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT) to conceptualize methods for reviving the canal metropolis.
“This project explored some core elements of environmental science—atmosphere and water—and how they relate to people’s lives,” said Purvis-Roberts. “As scientists, my students had to use a liberal arts mindset combining chemistry, sociology, and psychology to explore how they could impact these canal communities for the better.”
Resulting design concepts included everything from waterway lights that would change color to reflect air and water quality to an interactive comic and app that local elementary children could use to explore the area and learn more about khlong culture, pollution, and preservation. Purvis-Roberts noted that additional real-time data and funding would be needed to create some of these projects—but she’s optimistic.
“This collaboration between The Claremont Colleges and KMUTT is a perfect example of how students addressing real-life issues for communities can create something beautiful as well as functional,” she said.
—Emily Glory Peters