Engineering fog collectors

by Ana Maria Caballero, Nature Education Specialist
October 30, 2018

Family Drop in tent

Engineering fog collectors

Engineers solve problems. This past Sunday, during the final Fog x Kids Family Drop in event called Engineering Fog, children ages 8 and older put on their engineer hats to tackle a real-life problem: the limited access to clean drinking water experienced by many people on Earth, especially those living in desert and semi-arid areas, on islands, and in mountains along coastal regions.

The solution lies in figuring out how to capture fog and harvest the water it contains. Stenocara gracilipes—also known as the fogstand beetle, from the Namid Desert in southern Africa—has already done that, using its unique exoskeleton and wings to collect water droplets from the fog and angle it into the beetle’s mouth.

For more than 50 years, villagers in the Atacama Desert in Chile have been using a system of nets, called atrapanieblas (fog traps) to capture the tiny droplets of water contained in fog, and used this water for drinking and crop irrigation.

After learning a bit about these methods of harvesting water out of fog, our young engineers were challenged to build fog collectors and test their efficacy using Fujiko Nakaya’s Fog x FLO installation.

Children analyzed and replicated a simple prototype using wire coat hangers, nylon stockings, rubber bands, paperclips, and a paper cup. After assembling the device, children tested it by placing it near the fog source for 8 minutes. Some systems worked better than others, leading our engineers to re-design their collectors using a variety of materials to test which ones were more efficient at trapping the water. It was surprising to see just how much water was collected in only 8 minutes using a small hand held device!

Adults and children alike marveled at the results, and were fascinated with the engineering challenge and hands-on nature of this activity. And they didn’t mind getting soaking wet not one bit—anything for science!

Fog x Hill will be on display only through Wednesday, October 31, on the Hunnewell Lawn.

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