The Gowanus Canal is scheduled to undergo dredging and sub-aquatic capping as part of the USEPA Superfund Cleanup plan beginning in 2016. Alternatively microbiologists are drawing attention to polluted urban environments as they discover new communities of microorganisms capable of biologically processing pollutants. In reaction to the announcements to cap the canal, the study team commenced a microbiome analysis of sediment samples to ensure the taxonomy and potentially unique cellular functions of microbial communities in the Gowanus Canal are catalogued and studied before dredging operations eliminate access.
The BK BioReactor is an infrastructural bio-network designed to support and propel these investigations into the future and generate an active space for the community to inquire, investigate and project findings back to the community. Akin to the canoes in which our D.I.Y. investigations occurred and central to the BK BioReactor is a roving watercraft, which is capable of docking at specific locations along the canal for sampling events and to showcase research findings through the activation of vestigial spaces. As an open platform to support individual study, community engagement, and synthetic biology, the mobile research station aspires to embody the public library of the future. The station is supported by a network of vertical Smart Docks that expand upon the 14 original locations where seasonal sampling has occurred. These responsive interventions visibly delineate the site; collect and visualize information on water temperature, pH, salinity, and dissolved oxygen; and most importantly grant researchers and citizen scientists access to the microbiome below the cleanup cap.