Bio-luminescence Update

This prototype shown below illustrates the bio-luminescent system will illuminate when the algae are agitated. The prototype consists of UV sensitive liquid and a servo motor acts a generalized form of actuation to disturb the system.

The prototype suggests that regardless of final concept, there is some consideration that need to be accounted for when completing the system. For example. a form of actuation that can be performed to a non-moisture form of algae. Other considerations would be to maximize sensing/actuation that reacts to a users input. Creating the notion of object-user receptive interactions.


Depending upon whether or not an algae culture in possession is able to regain its luminescent qualities, will determine time tables for testing an integrated system for dry actuation. But regardless there will be an iteration that requires a moisture dependent system.



4/12 – Present prototype, discuss design for final iteration
4/17 – Divide algae culture, test dry system, design fabrication for project
4/19 – Create code and electronics for the interactive system
4/24 – Putting system together with new culture in place
4/26 – Final touch-ups on project
4/28 – Showcase

Look, Ask, Try, Learn


One of the priorities for the bioluminescence project is understanding the impact of integrating of this bio-actuator in a community and whether or not the impact on its ecology is positive. For this topic, I specifically looked at public areas that consistently have people going through this space. The areas that were observed are as follows: Tempe Town Lake, James Terrell ASU Skyspace, and a number of canals within the area. Presenting my idea, I would hope to gain insight on the benefits and faults of the project.


When asking questions about the bioluminescence project, I tried to ask to sets of questions that would give insight to in the impact that this bio-actuator may bring. One set of questions was relating to communal participation and the idea of revitalizing the urban environment by creating new paths and lighting these paths along a run or track. Then next set of questions were related to sensing the environment and pollution within a given area or bodies of water.

In regards to urban revitalization, there were some interesting comments that arose:

  • People would be willing to participate in random generated path events, but they would prefer not to be bothered when they are on the way to an important events.
  • In the case of people running or working out, they would like for the lights to keep up to their pace providing enough light.
  • The light from this project would benefit dim lit areas, especially beneficial for late night strolling.
  • Very few brought up the conclusion that it seemed unnecessary or expensive to implement as special events would be recognized without alternate paths attracting a person to the location.

Now in regards to environmental sensing, the following comments arose among people:

  • There was numerous responses that they would rather have that information provided to them before they are in a potentially hazardous location.
  • Some people understood the use but they the sensing was compared to chemical sensors that have been implemented near specific buildings, which have their own alarm systems.
  • In some rare cases, color blindness was brought up as a concern for distinguishing color variations and brightness within this bio-actuation.


To produce an environment for the project, specifically the notion of urban revitalization, I had volunteers help plan a random course for light activating (turning on flashlights to indicate path) and luring people to new locations. With the large variation of ASU Tempe campus, there were numerous varieties of paths that could be taken through each urban exchange. Through my experience of walking through the path, I had several concerns

  • As the path would progress from one “tile” to the next, there would be some space of darkness that arose as a void, which left the person walking in the dark.
  • Depending on how long the “random” path is, there should be variation in speed, brightness, color to indicate whether or not the location is being neared. Some paths could last too long if a person plans to follow to the very end.

Other questions arose, when we included a second person that would travel in a near area:

  • On converging paths, there was no indication of separate paths when splitting up, creating a confusion when individualizing paths.
  • Although this may provide a communal aspects to the urban environment, this test case did not provide enough information for the people in this experiment knew one another.


Through understanding how bioluminescence could be used in urban environment, there are some concepts that should be explored as well as understood for the best implementation of this bio-actuator. I learned that environments play an important role for this project as dimly lit places may benefit from this light, but it would be important to not leave any void spots in between. Also through these experiments, it was preferred by most people to have this project be individualized to their needs, whether that is keeping up with pace or specific color when others on a similar path or to take into considerations of color blindness, there are multiple ways that people would like bioluminescence  to cater to their needs.

Unfortunately, I was unable to receive enough information to use bioluminescence as a sensing for the environment as I the narrative was not strong enough in this moment. But there some other considerations that need to be accounted for in the next experiment.

Bioluminescent Pathfinding


In the age of antroposcene humans leave irreversible footprint on the Earth. However, if we have the power to destroy life, we should have the power to trigger life back to existence. How can we visualize the power of humanity to actuate life?

Related Work:

This startup was intended to fund bioluminescent shop fronts, public spaces, and installations with bacteria found among squid. The bacterium is non-pathogenic and non-toxic. The benefits brought from this bioluminescence were intended for no electrical cost for shop owners as well as a decreasing carbon dioxide emissions. With minor setbacks as longevity of the bacterium, this idea of involving bioluminescence in an urban environment was inspiring for this project.

The above link showcases a naturally occurring bioluminescent environment. Although this cave system would not be considered an urban, nevertheless the encapsulation of space provides social opportunity of housing bioluminescence. This occurrence relates to humanity leaving a footprint on the environment as the cave used to be a railway but once it was dug up, the natural environment took the cave for its own habitat.

The art installation above a replication of bioluminescence that was placed in a harbor. The installation included a quality sensor that tested the pH levels of the water, and changing the colors of the “bio-actuator” for the appropriate value. Green light emissions represented  reasonably “good” conditions and red emissions for considerably “bad” conditions. 

The idea:

The project is a combination of bioluminescence and urban revitalization. Interactive, explorative navigation systems will lead people to circumstantial events: festivals, markets, exhibitions and other social and commercial activities.

Dynamic urban environments and human movements are in intertwined in these spaces to actuate changes to agitated bioluminescent pathways.

Impact of project:

Beyond the direct impact of providing illumination to urban areas, these interactive environment systems would influence and attract people to explore new, familiar places. The involvement of communities exploring new location would create social experience that would become engrained into a cultural growth in urban environment. Thus revitalizing areas lesser traveled otherwise without the embedded system.

Additional effect that may occur are related to the algae being spread throughout urban environments. The algae would require some alternative food source to maintain brightness through its luminous cycle. Regarding consumptions for energy, the algae as well as it’s food resources can become introduced and consumed by other organisms and bacteria. Although the consequences of introducing algae into this ecology are unknown, nevertheless they will create an impact through the urban environment.


An experimental space showcases how life is actuated and changed by human activity. Visitors can experience on-site changes in their environment based upon their movement and current social interactions.

Parts list:

  • Algae Kit
  • Capacitive sensor
  • UV/Light sensor
  • Air Quality sensor
  • Microphones
  • Camera
  • Speakers
  • Motors
  • Processing board

Timeline and milestone:




Loren Benally – Fabrication, Programming
Veronika Volkova – Presentations, Graphics
Ryan Wertz – Electronics
Jacob Sully – Programming, Fabrication and design


Thermochromatic Paint by Loren B.

This project used thermochromatic paint as well as a thermoelectric pad to activate the paint. The pad would be turned on using a capacitive sensor once a threshold was hit.

Below was a picture of the circuit in total. The picture also represents the thermochromatic paint before it was activated. Thermo_unchange.jpg

Here is another picture when the thermochromatic paint was partially activated.thermo_change

Below is a schematic of the project. A very rough portrayal of the project.


Lastly shown below is the code that was used for the project. This code corresponds with the schematic above. thermo_capcode

Loren Benally – Hand Craft Sensor

The hand crafted analog sensor was a mix between a sliding potentiometer and a pressure sensor. The picture below shows how the circuit was generally setup. The velostat would slide along the blue electrical tape and would change the brightness of both LEDs depending upon both pressure and position of the slider. The intention of this circuit was meant to be embedded within a paper circuit. Here is the configuration below:


Here is the video link for viewing the animation of the lights: Loren’s Analog Sensor

Below is an electrical circuit representation in Fritzing:


The code below is straight forward with setting up pin values, declarations, as well preparing to take in analog value. The code the maps the analog values to the representative rgb values in the range of (0-255). The animation for the LEDs was intended to begin to turn on, while the other LED was beginning to turn off. The short delay provides a less dramatic change in brightness.