Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Julio looked down at his hands and rubbed the tips of his fingers experimentally over the tough flesh covering his palms. They were peeling and scaly. Looking up at me he said, "Just as well, now they will be tougher for next time."

While I was sleeping in until 7 and eating breakfast that was prepared for me with food from Iquitos, a good 20 hours upstream, Julio had spent the morning cleaning fish that he had caught in the river, leaving his hands scoured and raw. I looked down at my own soft pink hands that I have always considered relatively callused and frowned.

In a culture that is hunter gatherer based, there is little free time on a daily basis for tasks other than hunting and gathering. Full days are devoted to gathering food and preparing it for consumption. As there is no means of refrigeration in these communities, this process is a daily chore. I remember Julio going on a long diatribe about how most people that come to visit the research station just don't understand how much time is spent doing these things everyday, because "We don't have ice boxes, so things don't keep!"

Working for Project Amazonas, Julio is lucky and he knows it. I asked if he liked his job. "Of course, otherwise I would have to leave my wife and children for most of the year." The men that leave to work for the logging industry, if they come back at all, often return missing limbs or carrying malaria.

As a part of making a living, most rural Peruvians are sustenance farmers, the majority of the people living in these communities have little to no money to spare. Because of this, it seems unlikely that without good reason, they would be convinced to spend it on building a biogas digester when collecting firewood, which is a sustainable practice for the indigenous peoples of the Peruvian rainforest, is a much cheaper and easier way of providing a source of fuel.

A source of fertilizer would be much easier to market, and it would be much more useful.

As a demonstration of soil quality in the rainforest, you can simply dig a hole and take a look-see. The very top layer of soil is a dark loam of leaf litter. From there down is sandy clay...or clay-y sand, depending. This is terrible for growing crops.

The best solution, based on our assessment, would be to develop a cheap sustainable way of creating fertilizer using the biogas digester as a starting point. The only benefit of building a biogas digester (assuming the gas isn't a viable option), as opposed to a compost pile, is Nitrogen sequestering. In a compost pile, nitrogen leaches away into the surrounding soil, but in a digester it is conserved. A compromise of these practices would be to develop a contained composting unit that would be cheap and easy to build.

The logical next step, in following with the organizational of goals of Future Scientist, would be to create an educational program that would work in tandem with this technology. Future projects could focus on sustainable agriculture and water sanitation. By providing these tools, Future Scientist is aiming to give initiative to the global community, whether it be in Peru, or in the United States. With the help of social entrepreneurs, individuals such as yourselves, reader, this can be made possible. Thanks for all of your help and for reading this blog. I hope there was some learning involved on your side too.

You can visit our website at

futurescientist.org to follow our progress.

Please consider making a donation

to help support our cause!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Finished at last!

After three months living in the jungle, we finally got the digester up and running as a source of fertilizer. We spent a day squelching through a bucket of kitchen waste with our bare hands to get it started. Two parts water for every one part bananas peels etc...

Saying goodbye to the Julio, the caretaker, and his family was the hardest pat of leaving for me. We went to watch a last game of foot
ball at the nearby village and I spent the entire time getting chased and chasing his kids. Here is a picture of us attempting shaky face, a entirely diverting game that involves a camera and wobbly jowls.

I also got to go swimming in a cocha, which is spanish for seasonal lake, and exists only during the rainy season. We took the boat and had to hack our way through some water plants clogging the hidden entrance (at least I would never have found it). I couldn't believe we made it through, but I was amazed at what was on the other side.

A vast expanse of water filled with floating water hyacinths with delicate lavender blooms. Pink dolphins, or bufayos, dipped and jumped, breaking the stillness of the surface, and macaws flitted through the azure sky dotted with drifting clouds. It was a hidden paradise.

Frances returned home a little ahead of schedule, and I stuck around in Iquitos for a week, and met up with Fernando, the manager of Project Amazonas in Peru. We are planning on working with the university students in Iquitos as a part of involving the community and furthering the sustainability of our efforts in Peru. Apparently my Spanish has gotten a lot better! Anyway, I left with many new friends, and a desire to return some day, hopefully sooner rather than later. Adios Amigos!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Laying the Foundation

March 20, 2010

It was easy enough to decide where we plan to place the biogas digester, but it is a quite a different story making a solid foundation in the clay filled hill that we had selected. Brigitte and I decided to locate the biogas digester just outside the kitchen for easy access and use. The land surrounding the building slopes quickly downwards so the first order of business was to create a level and solid foundation for the 1130 gallon tank and all the degrading food that it will hold.

After debating a multitude of options for supporting the big lug, it was decided to dig a hole in the hill to level the ground, set the foundation in cement, and build a cylindrical wall to set the digester on top. Sounds basic enough, right? Well, let me tell you about the Amazonian soil: it is much less dirt and more like clay. Digging four feet into is trouble since it sticks to the shovel, so it is work to get it out of the soil and work to get it off the shovel...and don't get me started about the heat that we did all this digging in! Once that grueling work was done, we lay our sand to level the ground, drove some rebar into the ground to fortify the wall, set the first layer of bricks for the wall, and poured the cement for the floor. Foundation complete! Now let dry and onto building the wall!


March 13, 2010

Since the tank was made for storing potable water rather than for use as a biogas digester, the tank needed to be fit for its piping before it could even be taken outside to be set in place. The lid needed two holes drilled into it and the tank itself had two extra holes already in place that needed to be filled.

The two extra holes that needed filling proposed a bit of an initial problem since we had not anticipated pre manufactured holes in our tank. The problem was soon resolved with the rubber seals that came with the tank along with a few extra supplies we had on hand such as polymer glue and two-inch lids, we were able to devise a way to seal the holes.

The two holes in the lid are for the effluent for the decomposed material to come out. The first is a small hole for a one inch pipe to glide smoothly through without having discharge around the seal. This pipe will be releasing enriched liquid from the top of the tank to prevent it from getting too full. In order to make this happen, an ''L'' shaped pipe was constructed for the extra liquid at the top of the tank to flow through. Then a a hole was drilled in the lid and lined with natural rubber tubing and the long pipe was pushed through the hole. There was some guess work here to make the hole big enough for the pipe to slide freely, but not too big that the seal is no longer effective.

After doing this first hole, the second hole was a bit easier since we only had to get a two inch pipe to fit snugly with a rubber seal. The problem camewhen we went to attatch the valve that will release the decomposed food sludge. The ball valve we had purchased would not budge! So really, we now have a heavy pipe with a handle on it. We will need to go back to Iquitos to find a better valve.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Ode to Proyecto Amazonas

March 6th, 2010

Since the foundation of Future Scientist last year, Project Amazonas has been has been a helping hand and support every step of the way. From the early '90s and onward, this non-profit organization has been making a profound impact on many of the habitants in the Peru. They coordinate and run medical expeditions to rural communities, provide employment to locals, and give access to researchers. Future Scientist is now among the ranks or organizations and people it has helped, so we would like to take a moment to say thank you!

For our first project, when we installed solar panels and gave science based lessons at the orphanage, Project Amazonas provided the contacts to do this work. Now for this biogas digester project, this organization has provided us the means in which to do a wide range needs assessment of the area as well as a place to stay while doing our design work on the biogas digester. Thank you Project Amazonas!

Hopefully they will be able to make good use out of the digester we leave for them and perhaps Future Scientist can continue to work closely with them to continue to give back.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

En la selva, en la noche

Four hours on the cheripita, a small uncovered metal boat, and one painful sunburn later, Frances and I were climbing the steep concrete block path up to Madre Selva, our home for the next two months. We drop our bags in the screened in enclosure we chose for sleeping, and make our way down to the kitchen to help unpack the food.

That done, we head back to begin the process of scattering our belongings.

Our sleeping house is basically a large screened in building with a bunch of wood frame beds lined up neatly inside. Frances chooses a bed on the far side of the room and I pick another one right next door. Mattress, sheets, pillows, a bug net for the bed, and it is starting to look pretty homey. Stretch sigh, and collapse.

A knock on the screen door followed by a soft "Hola?" interupts our lazing.

Frances and I bestir ourselves to find Julio, the caretaker of the research station, peering in from outside. We smile and invite him in and he looks at our set up and then at us. In a voice I can barely hear, he asks us if want something. A few stumbling exchanges later we find ourselves helping him set up a tent inside the building, into which we move our beds.

Now, this may seem a bit much, you know...a screened-in tent set up inside of a screened-in building. Well let me clear that up for you right now. IT IS NOT!

Night number one:

I lie on my back, prostrate in the heat. It is pitch black, like being in a cave, but despite this fact, my eyes are open and staring, roving aimlessly in the nothingness, as I try to track the various sounds. All around me, the nocturnal world is coming to life. Crickets are chirping, frogs are peeping, croaking and barking, and birds are hooting and trilling. This is not the cause of my roving eyeballs. Proximal noises, shuffling and scooting sounds coming from too close for comfort places.

And then... patter patter patter: the sound of fast moving feet. Above me...or below me? It sounds like it is on the surface of the tent. I bat at wall, making the whole tent sway and shudder. "What was that?" asks Frances, and a light comes on, blinding in the absolute darkness. I squint, listening still, "I thought I heard something on the side of the tent..." We both scoot forward on our bunks to tug at the zippered entrance, making sure it is closed all the way so that nothing can sneak in while we are asleep. A small measure of comfort in this strange environment. We lie back and eventually drift to sleep, the sounds of the jungle blending into the background.

Buenas noches en la selva.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Hunt for Supplies

Frances and I sat down the other day and contemplated the feat of buying supplies. It went something like this:

Me: Frances, Necessitamos buy supplies!
Frances: Yo sais!
Me: Where should we go?
Frances: No sais! But we need to get them! Nooow!
Me: Yo sais!

Iquitos is a small city, but it seems vast and without limit when you need to find something specific. Hardware stores can be found on nearly every corner, but that doesn´t mean they have what you want. For instance, they might have a machete and some handy tools, and then some buttons and stickers, or candy. So, you could potentially walk to 10 different stores and still not find everything that you need. Which basically leaves you wandering around like an idiot. Now, imagine this added to the fact that Frances and I have the vocabulary of a toddler. Interesting.

Yesterday, we had a stroke of good fortune, or
maybe we sought it out and in turn were taken pity on....

It came in the shape of this fellow.

Caesar Peña.

Or, as we secretly refer to him when he is doing something valorous: our night in shining armor, who´s help has been absolutely indespensible to our project. KUDOS CAESAR!

He has worked wtih Project Amazonas as a translator for about 10 years, and we got to know him durng the medical boat trip. He speaks English and a few other languages to boot.

Caesar´s office is across the street from our hotel (how convienent), and knowing this, Frances and I ambled over, doing our best at nonchalant.
¨Hola Ceasar, que pasa?¨¨we say. A raised eyebrow and a frown, ¨Nada, commo estas?¨

We are fine (imagine us rocking onto our heels and twiddling our thumbs)! Smiles all around and nodding. Then, to keep from bursting, we spill our predicament. Caesar, nodds in all the right places as we tell of our woes and shakes his head at us. Whilst chuckling he flags down a motocarro.

Despite the confusion between pvc pipe for wires and pvc pipe for AGUA, finding the correct sizes, and locating gasket material, etc, we managed to find everything in two hours! MUY BUENO!

Frances rode with the rotoplast tank all the way back to the hotel. YEEE HAWW!
When we arrived at the entrance,
we thought...wait a second...(hands on side of face, OH MY!) this is NOT going to
fit in our room (note: I say this for effect, really we knew it going in to the situation).
Frances and I share a glance, a
tactic. We ask, their eyes buldge, we look downcast, and they heave some signs. Crazy gringas! Some awkward fumbles and stumbles
later, and the large black tank is nestled conspicuously amongst the shrubberies in the courtyard.
GRACIAS A LA PASCANA and Caesar, we couldn´t have done it with out you!
Tomorrow, LA SELVA!
Dear readers, please stay tuned as we are headed out to the jungle and will not be able to
update the blog for a good period of time. BUT NEVER FEAR, there will be more to come at some point. Don´t fall off the edge of your seat! Until, I am Brigitte Cronier, and this is WIIILD Peru!