Bottled Water Testing Station

In some parts of the world scarcity of water is a matter of survival. In over 20 countries more than 20% of the population lacks access to regular water supplies; in Afghanistan the figure is over 80%. *  In NYC water not only flows freely from the tap, but is sold in bottles from numerous sources. How should one react to the disparity that some people are dying of thirst, while simultaneously others have the luxury of perusing numerous bottles' ads of mineral content, and curative powers?

How are people to weight these competing claims, and determine the benefits of one brand over another? Worse yet, we hear reports that some brands are just tap water, while others are less pure, and less safe than tap water. How can people decide whether the benefits to themselves are worth spending several dollars a bottle, or whether everyone would be better off if we all drank tap water, and instead of spending our money on bottled water, donated the money toward the U.N. goal of halving the number of people without adequate water supplies by 2015? My response to these questions is this Bottled Water Testing Station.

Detail: Pictured are a row of bottled waters, brand after brand. However all the bottles are inverted, and have drinking tubes inserted, such that a hamster may drink from any it chooses. Over the course of time we can observe the water levels in the various bottles to see if the hamster is expressing a preference for some brands over others. Presumably this hamster has not been influenced by the ad campaigns of the various bottlers. Thus we are able to quantifiably observe how this animal's instincts respond to the choices available to consumers. This piece is designed to call attention to the disparity between our creature need for water on an animal survival level, and the commodification of water which has turned it into an 8 billion dollar market in the USA **  that has people paying more per gallon for water than for gasoline.

Detail: Labyrinth under Hamster Town. Holes lead up into to the small hamster houses. Hamsters are burrowing creatures that spend most of their time underground. The hamster can find its way underground between any two houses by passing through the center of the labyrinth. A plastic tunnel leads down to the aquarium seen below.

Detail: I was walking down the street when I spotted this aquarium in a trash pile. In it were the little plastic house you see, and an exercise wheel. I was looking at it, and trying to imagine the pet tragedy which resulted in it being thrown out, when a hamster emerged from the little house. I was stunned that someone would have just thrown him out. I decided to rescue him before he wound up in a garbage truck. I then had to figure out what to do with him, and eventually came up with the idea of finding him a job in the Bottled Water Testing Station. The aquarium is now Middle Earth in the hamster's domain. In the feeding bowl here the hamster will find hamster mix, a commercial hamster food, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables.

Detail: The hamster himself. Chief Executive Officer and sole employee of the Bottled Water Testing Station, unchallenged master of this domain. Hamsters are solitary creatures, and males will fight with other male hamsters if they are kept in the same enclosure.

I named this hamster "Rodent." Rodent was raised on NYC tap water, and so it may have the preference of being familiar. Will his curiosity lead him to try bottled brands early on? Will the scent of some mineral balances woo his loyalty? Or will he fear to try anything new until the NYC Supply runs dry? Will Rodent succeed in his mission to call attention to the global disparity of water availability, and the U.N.'s millennium goal of reducing by half the number of people without regular water supplies by 2015?*** A summary will appear here at the end of the test.

More details about The Bottled Water Testing Station
Project Summary

In 2010 the Singapore Science Center acquired the rights to build a version of The Bottled Water Testing Station
* Global Water Availability at
** Bottled water consumption at
*** United Nations Millennium Declaration Indicators, PDF, see Target 10