by Cinzia Ferrari
Harnessing cyanobacteria’s intrinsic ability to biomineralize for the design of novel biofabrication strategies
About the project
How will we make things, in the future? Cyanofabbrica is an investigation into cyanobacteria biomineralization as a novel biofabrication method. I chose to make sunglasses frames as the output for my project, which combines my interest in transparency of design communications and innovation practices. The sunglasses sector is a growing field where greenwashing is common and undetected. My project aims to initiate new investigations and conversations around how to innovate in the way we make, how to avoid wasteful processes, and where our limits stand in these regards. My fabrication process could be optimized to offset its emissions 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.
Cyanobacteria are photosynthetic, single-celled organisms. They survived the five last mass extinctions and can be found in almost all habitats. They were the first microorganism to generate the oxygen we depend on. Cyanobacteria biomineralization 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. Spectacular examples are stromatolites which are known to be the world's oldest known fossils, at approximately 3.5 billion years old.
Synechococcus pcc 7002 at the microscope, 50X.
The shapes designed are inspired by patterns recognized during microscopic observations of the cyanobacteria strains.
Syn 7002 frame and its components.
Base created by using biomineralized samples as substrate, to demonstrate its remanufacturing property.
Unruliness in the form is obvious.
Cyanobacteria biomineralization is a relatively novel method. My project is inspired by research from the University of Colorado at Boulder, which demonstrated that strong bricks could be created by inoculating mineralizing cyanobacteria with a structural scaffold. Analysis of the data collected during experiments showed that the presence of cyanobacteria creates stronger links rather than the minerals alone. The organism played a fundamental part in my design approach, and contributed to the final aesthetics, which are partially dictated by the way this organism binds its substrate. No two are alike. The temples and front of the frame are made of biomineralized material, while cyanobacteria pigment phycocyanin was used as a print.
Cinzia wearing Syn 7002.
Preparation of cyanobacteria for centrifuge process.
In order to support my research, I have been co-supervised by Dr. Paolo Bombelli, Postdoctoral Researcher from the department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge (UK).
I would also like to thank:
Dr. Megan Barnett, Geomicrobiologist at the British Geological Survey, Nottingham UK;
Prof. Saul Purton, Professor in Algal Biotechnology, UCL UK;
Prof. Nixon lab, Imperial College UK;
Freddie Elborne, Founder of MONC.
I am an Italian biodesign researcher with a natural curiosity for interdisciplinary projects. During the MA in Biodesign I have explored the strategic integration of biology, design, and technology. This also involved finding creative (and safe) ways to undertake advanced scientific processes in my own living room.
As a biodesigner, I constantly challenge what’s possible. I seek new strategies and operate comfortably in areas that are unknown, aiming to influence with my work how designers take action and inspire others to maximize impact.