Ground-level ozone, a climate-linked pollutant, poses health risks and demands attention. Offenhuber’s innovative “ozone tattoo” project introduces visual indicators of controlled ozone damage on indicator plants, empowering community monitoring. Integrating art and science, this autographic design approach fosters awareness and engagement, shedding light on an often-overlooked environmental concern.

Which wall does your research break?

The work builds on prior work of using indicator plants to detect episodes of elevated ground-level ozone, which is harmful to plants, animals, and humans. But the symptoms of ozone damage on indicator plants are difficult for amateurs to discern from other forms of plant damage. My “ozone tattoo” artistic research project generates visual marks of controlled ozone damage on parts of the leaves of indicator plants (tobacco, green bean). To this end, I built a device that delivers ozone in very targeted ways to a single portion of a leaf, creating a damage pattern that functions similarly to the legend of a map. They invite comparisons between the tattoo and the rest of the plant. It is an application of my “autographic design” approach, which uses the traces of self-inscribing processes as visualizations.

What inspired or motivated you to work on your current research or project?

The work of Jack Fishman, Professor of the Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences and Director of the Center for Environmental Sciences at Saint Louis University, who created “ozone gardens” with indicator plants for community monitoring. My Ozone Tattoo technique expands this approach by making it easier for amateurs to detect and compare traces of ozone exposure.

In what ways does society benefit from your research?

Ground-level ozone is a pollutant linked to climate change, generated from fossil fuel pollution (NOx, etc.) in the presence of sunlight and summer heat. As a strong oxidant, it affects the respiratory system of animals and plant tissue. However, it is monitored to a much lesser extent compared to particulate matter and also has an environmental justice aspect, where poor communities have less access to monitoring information. Ozone gardens and ozone tattoo methods enable community monitoring that can be integrated with existing community gardening initiatives.

Looking ahead, what are your hopes or aspirations for the future based on your research or project?

I want to continue implementing community monitoring initiatives using indicator plants. The project is also part of my autographic design initiative, the book “autographic design – the matter of data in a self-inscribing world” will be published at MIT Press in December.

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