Teresa van dongen
The Beauty of Waste: Prevent


A population of luminescent bacteria originating from the skin of an octopus appear to be the ideal source of energy for the Ambio lighting installation developed by biodesigner Teresa van Dongen in collaboration with scientists at TU Delft. Spark of Life is a lamp in which electro-active bacteria produce the energy required for a number of LED lights, while cleaning waste water. The designer has also developed this ‘living lamp’ together with scientists, this time from the CMET, Center for Microbial Ecology and Technology at the University of Ghent.

Amsterdam designer Teresa van Dongen (1988) reveals the secrets of nature and makes scientific discoveries visible in sustainable lighting such as One Luminous Dot, Lumist, Ambio and Spark of Life. Van Dongen may want to understand the language of the scientists, but she prefers to work with them on the development of products. Fascinated by light as a source of energy, movement and transparency of glass, she makes aesthetically pleasing and sustainably produced designs that make us think about nature and scarce energy sources.

Nature and science have always attracted its special attention. After a year, the biodesigner exchanged her studies in biology for the Design Academy Eindhoven, where she graduated cum laude in 2014. Since then she has been combining the language of science with the development of concepts into prototypes.
“During my studies in biology, I discovered secrets of nature that are usually invisible to us,” she says. “Fascinating discoveries in the scientific world regularly remain hidden behind laboratory doors or are only published in trade journals. It is seldom thought that these can have potential for designers, or that they are worth looking at from a different point of view. I work with enthusiastic professors, try to get things moving and hope that design, science and technology will go hand in hand in the future.”

Van Dongen has been awarded several prizes for her work: in 2015 she won a Dutch Design Award in the category of Young Designer during the Dutch Design Week Eindhoven, in 2017 a Creative Heroes Award in the category Next Generation and recently she received a Keep an Eye (Design) Talent Grant, a prize intended to stimulate recent alumni of the Design Academy Eindhoven in their development. Together with the support of the Creative Industry Incentive Fund, she can continue her research to develop the Spark of Life into a consumer product. In addition, Van Dongen is working on a Spark or Life installation with modular bacterial batteries commissioned by a large international museum.
For Spark of Life she received from the CMET researchers a purified electro-active bacterial culture that can be found in nature in the oxygen-depleted mud of a ditch. In such a diverse population there are only two electron-producing bacteria: the geobacter and the shewanella. They constantly donate electrons to a conductive material while cleaning waste water. Together with scientists from CMET and Jaap Hoogerdijk, electrical engineer from Amsterdam, she is now investigating what the various bacteria need as a minimum for her installation in order to provide an optimal energy yield. Can they also survive, for example, on home, garden and kitchen products such as pure tap water, salt and a dash of vinegar every other week?

In her lecture Van Dongen explains what her living lamps say about circularity and sustainability. Consumers make a clear choice when they buy my products. The lamp needs a teaspoon of acetate every week and fresh water once a month. In return, you get light and energy. This will give you a durable bond with the lamp, just as you take good care of a plant.
The designer also makes us think about nature and scarce energy sources. It offers an alternative: lighting that does not require a plug or power supply from the mains, giving you the choice of bypassing the system we are currently stuck in. In this way, Teresa van Dongen helps consumers to become more self-sufficient.



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