Bioluminescent waves are one of nature’s most extraordinary sights. oxygen mixes with water, compounds inside aquatic bacteria begin to glow, and the ocean ignites with an otherworldly glow.
Design Academy Eindhoven graduate student Teresa van Dongen wondered if she could harness the effect for a home lighting fixture, which led her to create Ambio, a lamp that glows with bioluminescent bacteria.
“For a while now I have been doing research into new forms of light and energy. Ambio is a visualization of where I stand in this ongoing research,” Dongen tells Co.Design. “I want to hint at how we can use nature as a source of energy in daily life.”
For all the scientific grounding, Ambio is a very simple mechanical device. The fixture is technically a balance. A dangling steel frame holds a glass tube filled with artificial seawater and bacteria, which was scraped off the skin of an octopus. A weight is positioned at each side. When you push the frame, the entire lamp begins to rock, swooshing around the seawater solution to oxygenate the bacteria, making it glow until the rocking subsides.
Masters students at the Technical University in Delft helped Dongen engineer the chemical conditions that would make the bioluminescence as bright as possible, but Ambio has a pretty large catch: The bacteria only live about three days before they need to be replaced. Dongen is working with fellow researchers to expand the lifespan, not just because she has several exhibitions coming up that will run for periods longer than three days, but because, ultimately, Dongen would like biology to inform more sustainable products.
“If we succeed in doing so in a few years from now, we can start to think differently,” Dongen tells Co.Design. “We are not nearly there yet, but I aim to, by then, simplify the design and create a living lamp for the home that needs as little care as, for instance, a regular houseplant.”