Cyanobacteria

Cyanobacteria

CyanoFabbrica

How will we make things in the future? CyanoFabbrica aims at harnessing cyanobacteria’s intrinsic ability to biomineralise for the design of novel biofabrication strategies.

The choice to make sunglasses frames as the output for the project combines the designer's interest in the transparency of design communications and innovation practices. The sunglasses sector is a field where greenwashing is common and undetected. It is also a market that is expected to grow, due to increasing concerns against UV rays and the growing popularity of glasses as a fashion item. The project aims to initiate new investigations and conversations around how to innovate the way we make, against wasteful processes and what is considered good enough. This fabrication process could be optimised to offset its emissions since the bacteria are kept in constant growth allowing photosynthesis to happen, and the product is designed to be remanufactured. At the end of its life, the sunglasses can be destroyed and used as a substrate for new products.

Additional information

Cyanobacteria are photosynthetic, single-celled organisms. They survived the five last mass extinctions and can be found in almost all habitats. They are the first photosynthetic organisms from which oxygen originated. Cyanobacteria biomineralisation is a metabolic reaction: the absorption of Carbon Dioxide during photosynthesis causes changes in the chemical composition of the water surrounding the bacteria, resulting in mineral precipitation. These minerals bond with sediments and polymers forming strong composites. The geological and ecological significance of cyanobacterial calcification is immense: examples are stromatolites which are known to be the world's oldest known fossils, at approximately 3.5 billion years old.

Cyanobacteria biomineralisation is a relatively novel method. This project is inspired by research from the University of Colorado at Boulder (Heveran, C.M., et al., 2020, Biomineralisation and successive regeneration of engineered living building materials, Matter, 2(2), pp.481-494). They demonstrated how to create strong bricks by inoculating a mineralising cyanobacteria with a structural scaffold. Cinzia built on the published research by working with three different cyanobacteria strains, to demonstrate how the process could potentially be applied locally, and by using a scaffold that is made from algae derived hydrogels (sodium alginate and agar), and ground shells.

The organism and its needs played a fundamental part in the design approach, and contributed to the final aesthetics, which are partially dictated by the way this organism binds its substrate. The final shapes of the sunglasses are inspired by patterns viewed during microscopic observations of the cyanobacteria strains, merged with Cinzia's personal design ideas for the frames. No two samples are alike and despite uniformity in the process, unruliness in the form is obvious, depending on the materialisation coming from a living system. This is particularly noticeable in the pattern of the base, created by using biomineralised samples as a substrate, to demonstrate their remanufacturing property. The temples and front of the frame are made of biomineralised material, while cyanobacteria pigment phycocyanin was used as a print. 

Ingredient list

Cyanobacteria, Ground Shells, Sodium Alginate, Agar Agar.

Credits

This project was conducted as part of my MA Biodesign, Central Saint Martins UAL. Tutors: Nancy Diniz, Alice Taylor, Victoria Geaney, Shem Johnson, Julian Jirau, Carole Collet. Co-Supervisor: Dr. Paolo Bombelli. Special thanks: Dr. Megan Barnett, Prof. Saul Purton, Freddie Elborne (MONC).

Photo credits

Cinzia Ferrari