Native vs. Invasive Particles

Firaas Khan
Rim Armouch



For some time, artists have been exploring the different ways they can raise awareness around certain issues related to the environment and let people interact with nature through the medium of digital technologies.

Firaas being interested in physics and I in ecology, we decided to create an interactive installation that lets the spectator understand the way invasive species destroy and alter freshwater environments. It also sheds light on how human activities can contribute to the spreading of invasive species.

According to the Government of Canada, invasive species such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, and other micro-organisms once introduced into a new environment, outside of their natural range, could grow quickly because they don’t have natural predators in their new environment. As a result, they can outcompete and harm native species. They can even alter habitats to make them inhospitable for the native species. This is especially concerning for species at risk.

Therefore, we ask ourselves how can we raise awareness around environmental issues through technology?

This installation was created using an interconnected screen and webcam. It was designed using the P5JS web editor, and the way the interaction works in this experiment is by detecting a human nose on the screen that, once detected, would bring an invasive species into the environment. 



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Phase 01                                        Phase 02                                       Phase 03




pinstallation-01Animated GIF of our set up



Ideally, we would want our installation to be exhibited at a science fair or science museum, which is why we created small notes that describe what each particle is, and how it behaves in a freshwater environment.

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Two projects that particularly inspired us are done by Thijs Biersteker:


The first one is Plastic Reflective, an interactive kinetic installation that lets the spectator reflect on the concept of the growing plastic problem in our oceans.



The second one is Shaded seas which shows that the power to change the overuse of plastic is in our own hands. The work sets out to keep creating awareness of the plastic problem in our oceans.

While both projects don’t necessarily use a screen or a webcam, they follow the same interaction that we’re seeking in our project and shed light on similar issues.  Additionally Firaas, and I thought that they could be done by using P5JS, Posenet, and machine learning. 

Our project was developed over several weeks, and while we weren’t able to achieve everything we needed with coding. We did go through an interesting research through design process, that helped us choose how to design the particles, how to design the human-screen interaction, the environment that we would like to create, and the way we want to present our installation.


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p-sketch-01Sketch made based on images gathered from our particles research

Sketch made based on images gathered from our particles research

A big part of our sketching process was related to the abstraction and the materiality of the particles. Do we want to abstract them? Make them realistic? How can we represent the fact that they are alive? How do they behave? What kind of properties do we want to give them?

Another part that we were also concerned with, was the environment in which they live.


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Then, we decided to create a group of native particles that would float in a freshwater environment, that would later be invaded by another type of species introduced by human interaction with the screen.





We chose to go with an abstract and simple version of the process, making it accessible to a wide range of people. Since it’s a freshwater environment, we decided to display our experiment lying horizontally on a surface. Given how screens with built-in webcams are easily accessible, we decided to use a tablet for the user to interact with. Making our project simple to install and portable.

We would like to consider our project as version 1 which can be enhanced over time. We already had a few ideas on how we can enhance the project:

+ Create an entire ecosystem and introduce more than 1 type of native particle that responds differently to the introduction of new particles

+ Elaborate on the idea of cycle and lifespan

+ Work on the visual approach. What happens if we add more details that could, later on, be used for additional behaviors?

+ Given that the iPad wasn’t processing our code efficiently, we did hear feedback related to the use of a projector and game engine, opening up the possibility to experiment with the shape of the screen

+ Elaborate more on the existing interactions, and add behaviors to the particles making the user journey even more interesting. Many users felt inclined to touch the screen, which could potentially lead to another interaction or be a limitation considering that we focused on webcam-screen communication


pinstallation-user-flow-05Additional properties of the native particles


The next step for us would be to keep inviting users to test our initial prototype to keep note of how people would like to interact with such a project. In addition, we would dig deeper into the different technologies that can display our project taking into consideration the feedback provided by our instructors and cohort.



Canada, Environment and Climate Change. “Government of Canada.” / Gouvernement du Canada, April 19, 2021.

“Thijs Biersteker —Plastic Reflectic.” 2016 Thijs Biersteker.

“Thijs Biersteker —Symbiosia.” 2020 Thijs Biersteker.

Shiffman, Daniel, Shannon Fry, and Zannah Marsh. 2012. The Nature of Code. United States: D. Shiffman.