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Algae as a living medium

With her project Algae Alight, chemist and creative technologist Zoë Breed explores the potential of bioluminescent algae as a living medium, using the algae’s natural abilities to produce light in combination with programmed vibration patterns to create a light show.

Bioluminescence is the ability of living organisms to emit light using biological processes. Generally, it is used to scare off predators or it acts as a form of camouflage. Most bioluminescent organisms are found in the marine environment. It is estimated that more than 75 per cent of these organisms have the ability to produce light.

For the project, Breed investigated a way to harness bioluminescent algae as a living medium. She created a Living Light Interface, which translates the digital input into the biological realm. For this, she used a type of microalgae called dinoflagellates, specifically the species Pyrocystis fusiformis. This type of algae is known for its relatively high light emission. It naturally occurs in tropical and subtropical parts of the ocean.

The resulting interface is a harmless setup that enhances the algae’s natural ability to produce light and combined with programmed vibrational patterns to produce a real-time light show. The algorithms are designed to give the algae time to rest and recharge.

The aim of the research is to provide insights into the behaviour of bioluminescent organisms and the integration of living entities into design, blurring the boundaries between nature, technology, and design.

Image: Zoë Breed