Elizabeth Fuller

Adventures in ITP

Design Frontiers in Biology & Materiality

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Biological organisms and systems are essentially living machines. Digital technologies allow us to create a control structure with computational predictability and precision. What happens, however, when designers begin to incorporate the self-determined internal control structure of a biological system as part of a design strategy? This course offers a new approach to materiality, positing that all matter is dynamic but exists within a continuum of control ranging from passively temporal (wood, water) to electronically active (photovoltaics, thermochromics) to biologically alive (plants, tissue). This course presents alternative design strategies for creating computational interfacing with living matter and state change of natural materials. Students are introduced to the world of the bio lab from a designer’s perspective, both conceptually and practically. We examine the state-of-the-art in artistic experimentation with biological systems such as the genetic manipulation projects of Eduardo Kac, or the carbon nanotubes grown into architectural structures of Ryan Wartena. We also examine more DIY approaches to living systems integration and interactivity with biological systems. Students use a hands-on approach in their design process, with biological sensing as input and indicators or material state change as an alternative method of information display, for example. This course is designed to further our computational relationship with the natural world pushing forward ideas in sustainability, interactivity, energy production and the emerging relationship between the designer/artist and the bio lab, approaching biology as an open frontier for digital design.