Explore Practitioners – Vashon Tnee

Practitioner 1: Birdkeeping @ Jurong Bird Park 

I sent out a variety of personal invites to animal specialists in Singapore and managed to cinch an opportunity to follow Vanessa, who is a senior keeper with the Jurong Bird Park, as she performs her duties in various aviary departments around the Park itself.

Worksite Documentation

Vanessa’s Keeper Outfit 

The first thing I noticed when I arrived was Vanessa’s outfit which was already equipped fully with a variety of useful tools that she used as she goes around the Park. The tools as I would come to realize later, are actually made up of simple household items whereby their functions have been creatively utilized by the keepers.

It was an amazing experience to be up close and personal with the birds, but due to some aviaries that have yet to be released to the public, I could not take pictures in some of them. So instead, I am focusing on the tools that I actually managed to get pictures of which Vanessa also kindly explained in terms of their functions.

Tools used:
1. Bird Feeders (Overnight Feeding)
2. Pouch and Gloves
3. Walkie-Talkie
4. Feeding Stand
5. Dust Sweeper
6. Food Container 
7. Disinfectant
8. Pruners

Bird Feed
(Also known as overnight feeding as it is often leftovers from a previous feed)
Feeding Stands
(A feeding stand is where most of the keepers have to organize the aviary feed for the day)
Disinfectant
(To remove certain bacterium from the feeding stands to make sure feed is safe to consume.) 

Process Documentation

I arrived at the Jurong Bird Park at seven in the morning and while I thought I was early, the keepers alongside Vanessa were already very much at work, getting ready for the aviaries that they were about to work on for the day. She greeted me and gave me a slightly humorous chiding for my tardiness as she was expecting me to arrive earlier to sit in for the keepers’ meeting which I unfortunately missed. 

Instead, I was granted permission to follow Vanessa as she conducted her duties around the Park, and it was an eye-opening experience to see the many ways in which the household items aforementioned were being used in ways that one might not expect it to be utilized. 

For instance, she has a set of pliers which also act as pruners, so instead of simply plying things, she uses it to adjust birds’ beaks that might have accidentally curved themselves as they peck at hard items during nest-making. She explained that the common birds species do not necessarily need their beaks fixed all the time but there are some like the Woodpecker that may accidentally bite off more than they can chew. 

Painpoints + Thoughts

When I asked Vanessa what are some of the pain points that she had with regards to her duties, she immediately gestured at the feeding stands. She told me to observe the bottom of the feeding stands and so I bent over to take a look and realized that there were some remnants of weeds that were growing and taking over the wooden platforms in which most of these aviaries were made with. 

She went on to explain that as the feed themselves are seeds from various plants, the chances of them falling to the ground and becoming weeds overnight is extremely likely and irritable to the keepers who have to cut and maintain the overall health of these aviaries. 

I was intrigued by this pain point, and it set into motion a couple of ideas that I would like to explore further.

Practitioner 2: Making Moisturizers & Repellents with Theo10

I attended the Theo10 workshop alongside many of my peers as we learned how to make moisturizers and even cooler, mosquito repellents!

Worksite Documentation

Theodore’s mini worksite was recreated with tools from his actual workplace

Theodore, who was the founder and CEO of the company named after him, Theo10, was giving a workshop at the Singapore Visitor Centre. He had recreated a small stall with the tools that he utilized as he was founding the company which he explained is now chocked full of fancy machinery that does his job more easily. 

Tools Used:
1. Essential Oils
2. Cooking Pot
3. Temperature Gun
4. Pipettes
5. Glass Rod
6. Cannisters

Process Documentation

The main base for the mosquito repellent is a special proprietary concoction made by Theo10 with Hokuba, Coconut Oil, Powdered Freeze Dried Aloevera and Glysterine

When the workshop began, we started off by making moisturizers which was interesting, as we simply had to add the oils into a simple cannister and mix it in with melted down solvent made of powdered aloevera and glysterine. 

This part of the workshop was the simpler part as explained by Theodore as it only involves us adding scent drips with properties we were interested in and more often than not, the outcome will not be too bad.

However, the next part of the workshop, was the mosquito repellent. This was a lot harder as there is a particular base which we have to use in order to scare off the mosquitos, and the smell from this base, is not too kind to the olfactory senses. As such, we were tasked to see if we could mask this smell with the essential oils just like Theodore did with his own proprietary product that propelled his company to its current fame after the onset of the ZIKA virus. 

Pain Points + Thoughts

It was a challenging task as the smell of the base often permeated through any kind of oils that we utilized, and because it was difficult to test, our noses were the only thing that we could use to really ensure that smell disappeared and after a while your senses do become numbed from all the different smells from the oils you are utilizing. 

It would be interesting to see how else we can make this job easier without the heavy machinery that Theodore uses, and relying on this already portable work site he has made to become even more wearable.

Practitioner 3: DNA Sequencing @ CREATE Labs

Thanks to Ruocha who managed to secure a session with Professor Philip Johns at the CREATE Labs, I was able to join in to explore DNA sequencing in its modern iteration.

Worksite Documentation

A MinIon
(The machine can read electrical changes in the pores and membranes)

The professor’s work site is as one might expect from a lab, clean and sterile, and it even includes a shower that you can use in order to clean off potentially harmful chemicals should you accidentally spill some on yourself. 

It is also organized in terms of work stations where various tools which perform certain functions will be kept in certain locations, not unlike Vanessa the keeper and her aviaries’ feeding stands.

Tools Used:
1. MinION
2. SmidgION
3. Pipettes
4. Splicers
5. Cartridges
6. Laptop
7. Nanopore
8. PCR 

A super accurate Pipette for an extremely meticulous task!
IO Rodeo Transilluminator
(AKA an open source potentiostat for performing electrochemical measurements, basically a measuring tool for viewing DNA gels)

Process Documentation

When we arrived the the labs, Philip was very informative and sat us down to explain the various concerns about his industry and how the tools were developed in order to resolve certain issues with regards to DNA sampling and collection in Singapore where he specializes in sea otters. 

We were given a whole bunch of jargon but which he also kindly explained what each of it meant as we went around his lab looking and testing with the tools that he showed us.

While certain tools would require a professional, it seemed like many of these tools were upgrades of the scientific tools we used as teenagers in secondary school where we did chemical titration and other similar tasks. 

Pain Points + Thoughts

One of the pain points that Philip brought up was the fact that he collects stool samples in order to avoid having any issues with the animal rights association, and in a new school of thought, there are researchers who are trying to find ways in which they don’t have to collect the stools at all, but rather the water, air, or even the soil in which the creatures might have left samples of themselves. 

If we could isolate these DNA enzymes that breaks down DNA before we can collect them, it’d be extremely helpful for researchers to collect samples from anywhere, really.

In short, he was explaining to us the movement of the next gen Naturalist who is able to take DNA from the environment and that was a really cool concept to think about.

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