Fatal Vitality

Master in Design Studies Thesis

Harvard University Graduate School of Design

Advisor: Robert Gerard Pietrusko



All nuclear activities generate radioactive by-products that will presumably remain hazardous for humans for thousands of years. Taking into account the time frame of its radioactivity diminishing to harmless levels, which in most instances surpasses the timescale of human civilization, the issues of management and confinement of such material introduces scales and temporalities that are wholly beyond our cognition.

An example of such limitations – our attempts to develop a communication system that would telegraph the message of danger and deter human intrusion into nuclear waste repositories for thousands of years – has only epitomized how much we are limited to the current cultural conditions.


By shifting the focus from communicating danger to visualizing the process of nuclear decay and placing it in the environment, this project renders radioactivity itself as a communication system and an ecological process. During the process, radioactive isotopes undergo a nuclear transmutation, a spontaneous conversion from one element into the other. Not only does this imply a continuous variation of the content of the radioactive material, but also a completely different behavior in the environment at different phases of decay, as each of the newly created elements exhibits different properties. Once the radioactive material starts seeping into the environment and becomes subject to geological shifts and transformations, unique environmental patterns will emerge at different times. Fatal Vitality develops an experimental and speculative approach of visualizing these phenomena – assuming that humanity will soon be technologically capable to read electromagnetic radiation emitted from the radioactive isotopes in the ground.



  • Cs-137
  • Tc-99