BioDesign Challenge

Last week the students of ASU Digital Culture and The Design School have presented their LIFE/LIGHT project at the Biogesign Challenge summit in MOMA, New York. The project was developed at AME 410 Interactive Materials course and finalized for the competition.

The summit happened for the third time, engaging enthusiasts that combine design with biotechnology. It is one of the largest biodesign events in the US and brings the attention of the growing community of designers and researchers.

Around twenty teams have participated in the Challenge this year from various schools and countries. The 1st prize was taken by the team from Central Saint Martins, UK, that have presented the concept of Quantumworm Mines. The runners-up were the students of  University of Edinburgh, UK with the research project “UKEW 2029” that showed parallels between biology and socio-political trends.

 

ASU project researched the potential of bioluminescent unicellular organisms and scrutinized the issue of co-habitat and control in a man-made environment. LIFE/LIGHT is an algae-driven living building system that produces fuel and light if properly taken care of.

We were designing in the middle-ground between an artifact, living nature, and humanity where the behavior of each component of the system influences its performance. (See figure 1.)

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Figure 1. Concept diagram.

Choosing our components within the broad fields of nature and artifacts, we decided to look into the relationships between dinoflagellate, a capricious algae creature that illuminates ocean in a number of coastal cities, including San Diego, and architecture as a medium for most of the human activities.

LIVING ARCHITECTURE

With the increasing concerns about ecology, the notion of living architecture arises. In the age of Anthropocene, living buildings adapt to the constant flux of technological, social and environmental conditions through integration with living nature.

The best example of such thing, probably, would be the rice paddles in South Vietnam (image 1), a sustainable artifact of agriculture and built environment that existed for centuries.

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Image 1. Rice paddles in South Vietnam, stock photo.

Among other inspirational examples are the Algae-fueled building in Hamburg designed by ARUP (image 2), the proposal by Mitchell Joachim for homes grown like plants (image 3), and the interactive installation by David Benjamin that visualized ecological conditions for the citizens of Seoul (image 4).

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Image 2. BIQ algae-powered building in Hamburg, image courtesy of ARUP.

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Image 3. FabTreeHub, image courtesy of Mitchell Joachim.

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Image 4. Living Light, Seoul, image courtesy of David Benjamin and The Living New York.

DINOFLAGELLATE

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Image 5. Bioluminescent dinoflagellate, stock photo.

Dinoflagellates are unicellular algae plankton chosen for the LIFE/LIGHT project due to the its qualities:

Bioluminescence

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Image 5. Bioluminescent jellyfish, stock photo.

Bioluminescence is the ability of living organisms to produce light. The “cold light” produced by dinoflagellate is done without wasting energy compared to conventional
electrically generate light.

When agitated by movement, algae colony produces light for a short perious of time.

CO2 Consumption

Dinoflagellate photosynthesis is capable of converting CO2 in glucose. This provides residual potential energy within cultures longer after decay.

Conversion to biofuel

Dinoflagellates may contain large amounts of high-quality lipids, the principal component of fatty acid methyl esters. The harvest of these organisms provides a suitable choice as a bioresource for biodiesel production.

Natural medium

Dinoflagellates are marine organisms that thrive in the natural medium of marine water. It makes them suitable for growth in the coastal cities with the use of natural salt water resources only.

ALGAE AT DAR

The dinoflagellates were grown in SANDS lab as part of the Digital Art Ranch at ASU.
This space supports DIY biology as well as other forms of researching interactive materials (image 6).

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Image 6. The experience of working with dinoflagellates, photos from DAR.

Growing algae takes a lot of patience and attentiveness. Not only we had to keep in a specific medium for the lack of fresh marine water, but also synchronise its day and night cycles with the lab operating hours.

During the day cycle (~12 hours), photosynthesis happens, and algae transform CO2 into glucose. During the night cycle (~12 hours also), they multiply and show bioluminiscense if agitated. Like humans, dinoflagellates are active during the day, rest during the night, and are very irritated when their rest is interrupted.

The optimal living condition for dinoflagellate is a room temperature 18 to 24°C (65 to 75°F) and avoiding rapid temperature fluctuations. This was regulated using a white LED lamp, which can be changed for a cool white fluorescent light.

Challenges

Time was a limiting factor as cultures would take a week or two to regain its properties from packaging. This opened for the possibility that cultures order may have been non-lively upon arrival.

Also the time for sub-dividing cultures takes 3-4 weeks, again letting the subcultures regain their properties. Then when testing cultures, this would have to be done over a span of days to few weeks to determine the necessary action for culturing.

A typical dinoflagellate flash of light contains about 100 million photons and lasts about a tenth of a second. In a testing format, it is suggested to use a control amount and compare the luminous value on the scale of 10. Also, one has to be very careful not to “stimulate” the culture before you actually measuring their light output because the first time they flash they produce a lot more light than each successive flash.

Learned

Patience and constantly being aware of the cultures. The cultures can be unforgiving when they begin to use bio luminescence and taking additional time to recharge before seeing the effect again. Also there was a problem to document the effect during an appropriate time.For circadian rhythms to

For circadian rhythms to be aligned with documentation during the day. The cultures would be in a night cycle during the day. Causing a problem of space, we had to devise a small container that would keep temperatures low and block enough light pollution from the room it was placed in.

DINOFLAGELLATE BUILDING FACADE SYSTEM

The project is a living building system that is attached to buildings in coastal cities and relies on algae for light and fuel production. It utilizes ocean water resources as a medium for dinoflagellate. It consists of tubes filled with algae-infused fluid, distributed operational nodes that control the water flow and a controlling device.

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Image 7. Facade system sketch

The system works in 3 different modus operandi: day, night and
harvesting organic residues for biofuel production.

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System elements

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Figure 2. System elements

Day mode

During the day, the water is supplied from the ocean water resources and distributed to the LIFE/LIGHT and other building systems, e.g. cooling. The algae-infused fluid flows into the tubes attached to a building facade and exposed to the sun.

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Figure 3. Day mode

Night mode

At night, algae-infused water fills the interior tube system that prevents its exposure to
city night illumination. When moved, the fluid gives away cold light that supports quiet
night activities inside a building.

In this mode, the most interaction between a human and the system happens. Human and algae share the same habitat and have to live in harmony in order for the system to work. If the night cycle is distracted by a human’s late night activities, algae do not multiply. When a person moves within the space with the algae tubes, they also move, arousing bioluminescence and illuminating the space.

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Figure 4. Night mode

Harvest mode

At the end of dinoflagellates life cycle, they become a residual organic matter that can be harvested in order to produce biofuel.

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Figure 5. Night mode

Operational node

The node serves an illustration to a highway of tracks within a system.
There would be numerous tubes to ensure the cultures are filtering, harvesting and transport to the correct location.

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Image 8. Operational node

Controlling node

Inspired by thermostats, the control unit provides a basis for displaying information and controlling additional systems in a house.

The 3 buttons would allow for the most critical options of the system to be chosen.
Additionally, the display provides a small sample of the dinoflagellates that would be tested. Depending on the condition of the sample and the previous sample was taken, the filter option could be accepted. Cycling the dinoflagellate culture and providing more medium.

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Image 9. Controlling node

The origin of the design needed to resemble a simple form of communication to a user that performs maintenance with the architecture embedded system. Not only would it provide given information on the LCD screen but it has the ability to control other system operations as needed.

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Image 10. Inspiration for the controlling node. Image courtecy of Honeywell.

The questions then are:

What is the boundary between an artifact and nature? Is the LIFE/LIGHT system alive?

Would you co-inhabit space in algae and adjust your habits so that both species thrive or control it remotely and transform living creatures into a utility?

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