Project Galene

Every second, 500 tonnes of plastics are deposited in the ocean. Project Galene is challenged and inspired to create a design solution to advance micro-plastic research with a citizen science approach

Duration: 9 weeks
Tools: Figma, Principle, 3D Modelling with Rhino
Team: Hannah Wu; Jazz Ang; Kelly Lin; Weixi Zhang

The Project

Rather than biodegrading, plastic just gets smaller into microplastics. It is impossible to clean 51 trillion particles, and because of how tiny it is, marine animals often mistake them as food. Now, 100,000 marine creatures die due to microplastic pollution every year. To study the micro-plastic pollution, marine scientists and researchers require large quantity of reliable deep sea samples from varying columns underwater – largely inaccessible for land-based scientists.

To solve this problem, we designed a novel wearable gear that scuba divers could use to collect underwater samples with a companion mobile app that syncs these activities and data to researchers seamlessly.

The Galene Project is completed as part of a graduate course in User Centered Design, in Autumn 2019 over the course of 9 weeks.

Outcome Overview

The Process

01. The Problem

Microplastics—tiny plastic pieces less than five millimeters in size—have largely been studied on the ocean surface because of its accessibility. As more research is done on microplastics, the need for global standardization of sampling methods has been recognized. Land-based scientists have also, in fact, little resources and abilities to access to water and sediment samples off-shore. Many researchers depend on volunteers to gather and collect samples, often a manual and time-consuming process to organize and administer.

To help solve the problem of inaccessible and insufficient sediment samples for micro-plastic pollution research, we adopted a citizen science approach to this problem.


02. Expert Interview

We conducted an interview with Dr Julie Masura in Geoscience department at UW Tacoma. Her fieldwork has expanded to determining the concentrations of microplastics in the waters of the Pacific Northwest. Interviewing a subject matter expert allows us to gain fast access to an unfamiliar research fields. Our questions include: What data is needed for the microplastic research? What is a valid water sample size? What are some of the challenges encountered in current microplastic research?

We discovered that

Underwater samples are necessary but inaccessible

Samples near seabed & varying sea columns are difficult to gather but necessary to show a comprehensive picture of the micro-plastic pollution.

200g of samples needed for conclusive research

For a water/sediment sample to be sufficient for research needs, it should be around 200 grams.

Current samples lack important data

Current samples, mostly surface 'grab' samples, often lack important data about the water and sediment samples, such as latitude, longitude, time, and flowmeter.

From these insights, we realigned on the right target users (or ‘citizens’) who possess the right skills, interest and capacity to access underwater, deep sea samples – scuba divers. 

03. Contextual Inquiry

We conducted contextual inquiry at the Diver Institute of Technology with Mike Hemion, who is an instructor/dive supervisor that trains professional divers. Visiting a dive center gave us a better understanding of the ‘day of a scuba diver’ and what to look out for when designing a device underwater. We learnt what goes around diving in Washington, including the water condition, pollution, protection in the area.

We learnt that

Attachment tools like carabiners are widely familiar
Most scuba divers wear dive computers to track dive data
160 DIT students are keen on participating in citizen science

04. Surveys & User Interviews

We distributed a survey with the goal to find out typical diver’s experience, criteria for choosing scuba gear, their priorities and willingness to contribute to any scientific research in the future. We further conducted 8 interviews with scuba divers from diverse backgrounds. We learnt qualitatively the scuba divers’ motivations to environmental programmes, potential concerns about the sampling device and the sample collection process in detail.

What stood out

The core priorities of scuba devices for divers are Function, Easy to attach and Decent weight
Almost all (98%) of the 120 survey participants expressed interest to contribute to scientific research
Novice divers generally have concerns on the sample collection process, especially for available guidance and support

04. Iterated Design Question

After distilling the research insights, we refined our design question to focus and scope down on engaging scuba divers. Also, to employ collecting deep sea samples as a means to contribute to microplastic research. 

05. Personas

Given a refined design question and the insights gleaned from our user research, user personas were created to represent the motivation and frustrations of our primary stakeholders.

06. Synthesising Findings

We synthesized our insights from the user research, and concluded with the following 3 design principles:

Design Principles

Form Follows Function

The shape of the device should primarily relate to its intended function or purpose.


Scuba divers should feel comfortable using the device, just as they use their existing scuba gears.


The device should not impede, obstruct or cause anxiety to the diver while they dive

Design Requirements

Based on the research insights and principles, here are some of the core design requirements that informed our design.


07. Ideation Sketching

Based on the above design principles, we explored a variety of form and material through 24 sketches. The sketches were created to explore the breadth of our ideas that prioritises on two main components of our solution:

• Underwater data logging device that captures aquatic data linked to the sample collected
• Sediment and water sample collection device that divers use while scuba diving in the deep sea.

3 necessary components

A carabiner commonly use to securely attach additional devices
A smart tracker that automatically tracks data
A silicon capsule that is not obtrusive and can withstand pressure

Down selection

Then we narrowed down to three concept from all 24 sketches. We evaluated based on the design principles and eventually down-selected to one concept that combine S-biner with Foldable Bottle to suit all the requirements.

08. Start Prototyping

Our first hardware prototypes, including the s-biner carabiner, and a sampling device (known as Galene Capsule), were based on our finalized sketches. The physical prototypes are modelled by Rhino and materialized with 3D printing. After that, we assembled the printed prototype with a collapsible cup that was purchased in the market.

Prototyping Process

Mid-fidelity Prototype

Our prototypes consist of a Galene Kit i.e. a S-biner and the Galene capsule, and the Galene mobile application.

The S-biner is a multi-functional carabiner with a screen that sensors and collects aquatic data such as geolocation, time of dive, depth, etc.. The s-biner could be used separately as a simplified dive computer, for divers who do not own one.

The Galene capsule, the sampler, consists of a shovel opening for the easy collection of sediments, with a foldable mechanism to ensure usability underwater. The capsule also has a data tracker and LCD display, which shows the depth and volume level during the sampling process.

09. User Flow & Wireframing

To facilitate the process of sample collection, the Galene App is connect to the Galene devices to find projects nearby, record sample collection and data, and submit them. 


10. Usability Testing

The usability of the Galene toolkit and mobile application was tested with 3 participants total. Our selection of participants covered a range of scuba diving experience to ensure that we cover all grounds. Two participants are proficient regular divers one of them has an Advanced Open Water Diver certificate and lifesaver license, and the other participant is a professional diver who has been teaching scuba diving for more than 20 years. One participant is a novice Open Water diver.

Focused on the understandability of the mobile app and the usability of the hardware, 3 main tasks were conducted by the users during the test:

Connect S-biner to the app, and try out early prototype: S-biner and Galene Capsule

Find “Ongoing project”- Project Washington and engage in this project

Collect and report collected samples, and drop off the sample

Synthesising insights
through Affinity Diagramming

Key insights

Here are several important insights established during the affinity diagramming session after the usability test.

11. Iterating the Prototype

12. High Fidelity Prototype

Galene Capsule

The Galene capsule is the main product, which is mainly used to collect the sample and captured related data leveraging the embedded tracker. The S-biner, which connects both to the capsule and the BCD, is one of the two associates that comes with the main capsule. Another associate is the retractable cable, which additionally attached to the S-biner and the capsule, prevents the capsule from accidentally flowing away while detaching from the carabiner.

Galene Mobile Application

Usability Test Insights
1. Some divers are unfamilier with citizen science and microplastics. Need more explaination before participating a project.
2. The function of S-biner and dive computer are overlapped.
Design Decisions
1. Provide citizen scieence and microplastic information at the on-boarding pages. Build background knowledge before exploring projects.
2. Remove “connecting device” at on-boarding page. Relocate data tracking funtion on to Galene Capsule.
Usability Test Insights
1. Novice divers are not comfortable with collecting water samples for research purpose by themselves.
2. Need a clearer instruction of how to collect the sample.
Design Decisions
1. Narrow down target user to advanced divers.
2. Add “how to you collect sample” instruction.
3. Since data tracking function has been relocated to Galene Capsule, set up and connect Galene Capsule after divers confirm to join the project.
4. Resmove “sync the Galene capsule” function and the barcode on it since users would like to reuse Galene Capsule. Relocate the barcode onto the sample bottle.
Usability Test Insights
1. Participants need more instructions of the sample submission process.
2. Participants would like to edit the dive log before linking aquatic data to the project.
3. Participants prefer to reuse the sample collector instead of one-time use.
Design Decisions
1. Add Galene Capsule sample collection tutorial and detailed submission process.
2. Add the “edit log” function before sample submission.
3. Add a sample bottle in the last step of sample submission process. Divers can pour the water sample in the sample bottle and reuse the Galene Capsule.
4. Remove “take a photo” function since each sample bottle has a serial number for tracking.

Try it out!

12. Reflection & Next Steps

As we look back over the course of 9 weeks…

What was helpful

Expert interview & usability tests have been the most helpful in figuring out the requirements from the researchers and what citizen scuba divers’ desire in order to go out and collect samples. For an area this niche, subject matter experts and talking to people firsthand gave us more insights over hours of secondary research.
What was surprising
1. For a skill-based hobby like scuba diving, we need to consider the proficiency and capacity. Novice scuba divers might not feel comfortable or confident to operate other devices underwater, especially when they are still learning to control their buoyancy.
2. Our interpretation of what is seemingly easy, is completely different in the natural environment context (i.e. 40 feet down underwater with bulky scuba gears). Divers wear different gears and gloves that would affect how they interact with the device.
Given more time…

1. Talking to more researchers will provide us a better understanding of the different research needs. Further, establishing validity to our solution. By doing so, Galene kit could be use for different kinds of research as well
2.Testing the prototype under constraints (e.g. underwater). Doing so, allow us to simulate similar environment that scuba divers would have. Putting ourselves in their condition, their shoes.

Project Galene is inspired by both the far-reaching impact of a potentially highly accessible solution and the challenge to design for a highly-constrained context. Our hope is that through Project Galene, scuba divers could easily make an impact to the environment they so love. Consequently, our researchers and scientists could further draw more conclusive results to further the cause against micro-plastics pollution. And as for all of us, to remember that the next time we use a single plastic bottle, we will be feeding another 10,000 microplastics to our fishes in the ocean.

Skip to content