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Empowers scuba divers to collect deep sea water samples and contribute to microplastic research

Project Type

School Project

Team members


As a UX designer in the team, my main focuses were visual design, interaction design, prototyping, and 3D modeling. I built the digital model for the hardware and collaboratively designed all the features.

Hannah Wu, Jazz Ang, Kelly Lin, Weixi Zhang


9 weeks


Microplastics—tiny pieces less than five millimeters in size—have largely been studied on the ocean surface because of its accessibility. However, many scientists and researchers have discovered that microplastics are also presented at deep-sea columns. To further expand the microplastic research, it is necessary to analyze sediment samples from deep-sea locations worldwide. However, this type of sediment sample is largely inaccessible by land-based scientists. To help solve the problem of inaccessible and insufficient sediment samples for micro-plastic pollution research, we sought to the citizens who possess the necessary skills, interests, and capacity to collect sediment samples - scuba divers.

Problem Statement

How can we engage and empower scuba divers to collect deep-sea samples and contribute to microplastic pollution research?

Outcome Overview





Rather than biodegrading, plastic gets smaller into microplastics. A 2014 study suggests an estimated 51 trillion particles in the ocean, perhaps even more. It is impossible to clean, and the size of microplastics makes it almost impossible to separate them from water. Hence, marine animals often mistake them for food. Now, 100,000 marine creatures die due to microplastic pollution every year. To study the sources, distribution, and effects of micro-plastic pollution, scientists and researchers require a large quantity of reliable offshore samples.

Initially, we asked...

How can we engage and empower citizens to contribute to microplastic pollution research?

We used the following research methods to investigate current challenges in microplastic research, scuba divers' willingness and expectation to contribute to the research.

Expert Interview

With Dr. Julie Masura in Geoscience department at UW Tacoma

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120 survey responses from scuba divers

User Interview

8 phone interview with scubar divers in various levels

Contextual Inquiry

Visited the Diver Institute of Technology to observe diver behaviors

Current challenges in microplastic research

To investigate the challenges in the microplastic research and learn more about the unfamiliar research field, we interviewed Dr. Julie Masura in Geoscience department at UW Tacoma. Her research focuses on the concentrations of microplastic in the waters of the Pacific Northwest. 

We learned that...


Seabed samples are inaccessible for land-based scientist


Sample collection time and location data are sometimes missing in existed sampling method


Valid water sample size should be at least 200 grams

"... Surface samples cannot be used for conclusive research, we need large quantities of deep-sea samples."

We then iterated our question...

How can we engage and empower citizens to contribute to microplastic pollution research?

How can we engage and empower scuba divers to collect deep-sea samples and contribute to microplastic pollution research?

Scuba divers: can't wait to help, but need convenient sampling kits

We found that seabed samples are inaccessible in previous research. Scuba divers are most likely to have the skills to help, so we talked to scuba divers and sent out surveys focusing on the following questions:

  • Are you interested in marine research and willing to help?

  • What features do you think are important in the sampling device?

  • Do you have any concerns about sample collection?

We learned that...


98% of the survey and interview participants are interested in marine research


Advanced divers are comfortable with sample collection, while novice divers have concerns in balancing themselves


The sampling device needs to be functional, easy to attach, and with decent weight


Data loging is time consuming and inconvient after every dive

"(The sampling device) has to be readily accessible to everyone, easy to attach, and with decent buoyant."

Putting the puzzle together: skateholder profiles

With our insights generated from our user research, we created their respective personas to represent the motivation and frustrations of our primary stakeholders. Since novice scuba divers were not comfortable in sample collection, we narrowed down our focus on advanced level scuba divers only.

Synthesizing findings: Guidelines for design

With the two persona in hand, we synthesizing these findings into design principles and requirements to address user needs and pain points. We used the design principles and requirements to drive our ideation process.

Design Principles
Form follows function

The shape of the sampler follows its purpose


The sampler should not impede or cause anxiety


Reduce efforts on participanting in the research and reporting data


Scuba divers should feel comfortable using the device

Design Requirements

Able to collect at least 200g sediments

Easy to attach on dive equipments

Easy to operate under water

Align with current mental model

Able to withstand water pressure

Leak proof underwater

Record accurate and valid data

Easy and automatic data collection


How to collect samples? Galene capsule ideation & prototyping

Based on the above design principles and requirements, we explored a variety of form and material through 24 sketches. The sketches were created to explore the breadth of our ideas that prioritizes on 3 main components of our solution:

3 necessary components for Galene capsule
Smart Tracker

Automatically tracks and documents time and location


Commly used by scuba divers to securely attach additional devices

Silicon Capsule

Can contain 200g sample. Not obstrutive and can withstand pressure


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.

Mid-fi Galene capsule

Our first hardware prototypes, including the s-biner carabiner, and a sampling device (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.

How to report sample data? Galene app ideation & wireframing

We mainly focused on the hardware design in the previous process. But we soon realized that an additional application is needed to help scuba divers:

  • Find microplastic research projects nearby

  • Record and submit sample data

Wireframes and flows
Review: How does the Galene kit work together?

We added necessary components to the Galene kit along with the ideation process. To summarize, the Galene capsule and the Galene app work together as follows:



Usability testing: getting feedback from users

We didn't have the capability to test the sampler (Galene capsule) undersea.

None of us has a mechanical engineering background and we were not confident with controlling the risks in using the prototype. Due to safety concerns, we decided not to test the sampler undersea. However, to make sure the sampler was relatively feasible, we need to find another way to test its usability. 


Invited experienced scuba divers to try out the sampler in the lab environment, and collected feedback on usability concerns in the imaginary deep-sea environment.

The usability of the Galene toolkit and mobile application was tested with 3 experienced scuba divers.

Key Focuses

  • Usability of the Galene toolkit

  • Readability of the Galene app


  • Connect device, try out Galene capsule prototype

  • Find 'Project Washington' and join this porject

  • Connect, report and drop off sample

Galene capsule
Galene mobile application

"I will need more context for citizen science and microplastic research."

usability issue.png

"I prefer to edit the dive log before linking data."

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Iterated user flow
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Final Design

Final Design
How does the Galene kit work together(iterated)?
Galene Capsule
Galene mobile application


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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. ​

Giving 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. ​

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