Wednesday, December 30, 2009


For more information on Smartsurfaces visit

Friday, December 18, 2009


Looking back on the semester, it was an overall success. Though our final project didn't work as well as intended, I learned a lot and gained several influential experiences.

Working within interdisciplinary teams, I gained useful insight into the collaborative workplace, and myself as an individual and team member. Now I better understand the type of personalities with whom I work well. As far as personalities with whom I don't work well, I've learned coping strategies, and noted signs to avoid in the future.

I have a better idea of what a $3,000 project might look like, and a better idea of how to potentially acquire such funding.

From LEDs and motors to algae and forms rich in metaphor, Smartsurfaces encompassed a diversity of topics as rich as the people involved (not monetarily of course, though the class was well funded).

C'est fin.

Exposure: The Finale

The aquarium light, meant to mimic the circadian rhythm of the algae thus keeping it alive, created an interesting, eery lighting when shone on the piece. Unfortunately, the light in the gallery was too difficult to control. Without covering the piece with a blanket or curtain, the area couldn't get dark enough for the 12 hour period necessary to sustain the organisms.

In the end, the mechanism we chose to create movement was not the most effective. The cams on the end of the motors we able to fall out of alignment with the panels, and were to weak to create the intended motion.

I find the overall form of the piece to be intriguing, intertwined with organisms and metaphors. Algae organisms are living within IV bags, typically used to aid human life support. The acrylic panels that house the IV bags are organisms themselves.

Exposure uses solar energy in two ways, one direct, and one indirect. Through photosynthesis the bioluminescent algae use solar energy to directly create blue glowing light. Indirectly, photovoltaic cells use solar energy, converted into electricity, to power the motors that generate the movement within the piece. The ladder only exists only in theory, seeing as how the final destination of Exposure is an indoor gallery.

Our team definitely had it's ups and downs, but we made it through to the end. We all learned important lessons about the design process surrounding collaboration, the collaboration surrounding the design process, and the need to prototype. When all is said and done the most learning happens during building. Decisions can't be changed until they are made, and are often not made until they have been physically realized.

Some thoughts I take away:

The night of installation is too late to make game changing decisions, if there is no time to build anything.
It is ok to rely on group members.
Be prepared to suffer consequences.
If you are sure something needs to get done, but are unsure if it will, do it yourself.
Don't believe everything you are told.
6 heads are not always better.
Taking care of living organisms is stressful.
Dedication is not always a good thing.
Truth worlds do exist.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Algae Transfer

One night before the final installation Laura and I began transferring the algae organisms into our pre-prepared IV bags. Working within the circadian rhythm of the algae, we waited until the light cycle to begin the operation. It didn't take long for us to put together a system, and after several hours we had 50 bags filled.

I laid out a blanket for the little guys so they wouldn't get too cold on the cement floor.

What the hell is going on?

Bioluminescent algae and IV bags? I keep explaining what's been happening, assembling a system of IV bags and algae, but what the hell is really going on? What was the one post with moving cardboard panels? I'm not so sure I've made myself clear. Here is a quick abstract that explains our project, Exposure, and our intentions:

Rather than using solar cells to convert sunlight into electrical energy, we are concerned with using the power of the sun in a more direct way. Exposure is a biological, heliotropic lighting system powered by photosynthesis. Living inside the piece are several Dinoflagellates, Pyrocystis fusiformis, aka bioluminescent algae. The bioluminescence of the organisms are set to a biological clock quite similar to our sleep cycle. During 12 hours of daylight Pyrocystis use the available light to photosynthesize, producing their own food and oxygen. At sunset the cells produce the chemicals that cause the luminescent reaction. If agitated during their 12-hour dark cycle, the algae give off a glowing blue light. In Exposure we have harvested several bioluminescent algae organisms, and embedded them into an architectural array. Within the array, varying panel heights correspond to the density of algae organisms contained in each unit. Infrared sensors located below the panels detect human presence, and trigger a motor. Attached to the motors, a cam makes contact with the panels creating enough motion to agitate the algae and expose their bioluminescent glow.

We've seen the algae and the IV bags... below are some digital images that show the overall form, eventually to be made out of acrylic via CNC routing.

We began with a single profile. Using several panels with slight variation creates a voluminous form. The rigidity of the single panels stifled the potential movement within the array. In order to loosen it up, we added a second profile.

Hanging the lower panel from the upper, when one swings, so does the other. The hope is that the movement among the panels will be enough to agitate the algae living in the IV bags embedded within the acrylic array. The blue in the image below represents the introduction of the algae organisms into the form.

Other than the testing on cardboard, the movement of the actual pieces was not tested before installation. Unfortunately, there were unforeseen delays with routing, and coding and motors weren't communicating.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Long Awaited Algae Footage

I spent a little bit of time trying to document the algae and found some success. The amount of ambient light in the room determines whether or not the camera will pick up the light. These videos are pretty rough, but they show the algae glowing at different brightnesses.

This is just me flicking the plastic bottle they are currently living in. There are much more effective and controllable ways of agitating the algae. I like this video because about half-way through I was able to get a really bright flash.

I apologize for the camera handling.

The IV bags continue to be prepped for the algae. Laura stuck a piece of tubing into each one, and I sealed the connection with silicon.

As the gallery became available we moved right in and started hanging our frame.

With less than 3 days to go we're are on a steady track. Its crunch time.

Friday, December 4, 2009

All the Single Ladies

Being a single mother is a tough job. Yesterday we received another batch of algae from the helpful folks at Sunnyside Sea Farms. Because our algae is not growing as quickly as we thought it might, we wanted to make sure we have enough to produce the desired effect. So we ordered 4 liters.

These little guys arrived in 4 1L bottles and were highly concentrated. Because the organisms are tropical, there was some concern in having them delivered to our 38ยบ Michigan weather. When the bottles arrived they were quite cold, so I rushed home and turned on the heater. Apparently I had underestimated the amount of algae we were actually receiving. This sounds dumb because I knew we had ordered 4L.... but I hadn't thought about the amount of space they needed. Before the arrival I had prepared 4 2L bottles half full with salt water (specific gravity 1.019). When I added the algae to the bottles they were full. Hmm. I don't think this is good.

Tonight I am going to prepare 4 more 2L bottles and spread the guys out a bit. Just having the algae in my room stresses me out. I'm sure that I have done everything to take care of them, but the more we have the harder it gets. And we just asked John Marshall to order us 3-4 more liters! AHHHH! This is definitely becoming a two person job. We want to make sure we have enough algae to really wow the crowd, but we don't want to have too much to take care of.