Thermal Fishing Bob

Presentation Poster for Thermal Fishing Bob project, used at Maker Faire at the White House, 2014.

Presentation Poster for Thermal Fishing Bob project, used at Maker Faire at the White House, 2014.

Spectacles are striking performances designed to leave an impression. In science, they have been used for hundreds of years for spectators to learn, to be entertained, to be enthused, and to consume. But, unlike early science’s use of spectacle via dramatic, theatrical presentations often in the theater of laboratories this project marries spectacle to data collection in the field. Traditionally data gathered in the field is exported from the site for analysis by a few qualified experts who work to render and represent the data in charts and graphs. By contrast thermal fishing bobs take a different tack, creating a collective data gathering event in which data is rendered into a visceral experience for local participants. The thermal fishing bob is a DIY floating thermometer that changes color in different temperatures. Floating several bobs on the surface of water allows long exposure photography to capture a “light painting” where the colors describe the temperature of the water at that location. Thus, the bobs provide a scientific spectacle in terms of data visualization as well as being the center of a public event such as a science pool party or a fishing expedition in polluted waters.

Such events draw members of the public into conversations about local environmental conditions and makes evident the process of data-gathering and interpretation. As a civic science project, the thermal fishing bob takes science off a pedestal and tethers the investigator to her method of data collection, emphasizing the local knowledge created and required for gathering field data. By rendering data-gathering a spectacle in the present, in which data is made apprehendable in field through light, sound and tactile experience, civic science spectacles are both an aesthetic and a methodology intended to transform our collective experience of environmental conditions.


  1. 2014: Kendall Power Plant Boston Massachusetts
  2. 2014: RPI Earthday pool field test
  3. 2015: Mystic River Power Plant Boston Massachusetts


Kaya Simmons, Northeastern University
Max Liboiron, Assistant Professor Memorial University of Newfoundland
David Sittenfeld, Northeastern University, Boston Museum of Science
Don Blair, Public Lab
Catherine D’Ignazio, MIT
Public Lab
Mare Liberum
Laura Perovich