Synthetic Aesthetics - "Packaging That Creates Its Contents" in Paris Wed, 09 Apr 2014 15:30:50


"Packaging that Creates its Contents" by Synthetic Aesthetics residents Will Carey, Adam Reineck, Reid Williams, and Wendell Lim was exhibited at En Vie/ Alive, curated by Carole Collet at Espace Fondation EDF, Paris, France, April 26 2013 – September 1 2013

"We imagine an extreme probiotic drink that relies on bacteria to morph into a physical cup when exposed to a specific light wavelength. During shipping and storage, these light-moulded cups  are ‘alive’ but remain dormant until water is poured inside, creating an effervescent, healthy drink. After several uses, the cup’s walls begin to degrade and it can be composted.

‘Packaging That Creates Its Contents’ helps people think about what the world would be like if packaging never created waste. Hotwiring what scientists are already doing with bacteria – responding to light, in this case – completely changes the concept of packaging. By imagining biodegradable, lightweight containers built from living materials that reanimate when filled with liquid, the project aims to provoke further design exploration of the potential of synthetic biology for industrial design and packaging applications.

“Intriguingly, objects made from living organisms could have unique properties that go beyond their mode of manufacture,” writes Christopher Mims for Fast Company. “In this concept, the bacteria used to grow the cup is also an aid to digestion. Once filled with plain water, the cup starts to produce probiotics. Such a cup would challenge one of the primary tenets of consumer goods; namely, that packaging is secondary to the product being sold.”

The intersection of design and science allows both fields to explore new questions. Developing a closer relationship with biology allows designers to begin to imagine a future with no waste. Understanding how to program living organisms points to a new frontier of coding – beyond software, into materiality. This project has been developed with the support of IDEO San Francisco."

Photo: Nicolas Zurcher, Render: IDEO. 

Living Amongst Living Things receives a Notable mention from Core77 Wed, 19 Sep 2012 15:39:15 Will Carey and Adam Reineck were recognised for their collaboration with Wendell Lim and Reid Williams at UCSF in the Core77 2012 Design Awards, receiving a notable mention in the speculative category. Jury members described the work as follows:

This is a most interesting collaboration between designers and scientists to create biodesigned projects. – Bernardo Fernandez

This concept is very provocative, as always happens with science. You have to think where to stop before making life-changing discoveries. This concept opens up a new field of study that is really amazing. I really hope the authors are aware of all the risk factors. – Irina Kharseeva

This is IDEO, so this is classy and deft. It’s “design fiction” that would impress people in the boardroom. – Bruce Sterling

Growing plants engineered for their field Fri, 18 Nov 2011 11:59:02


Read more about the ongoing work of Will Carey and Adam Reineck from IDEO and Reid Williams from the Lim Lab at UCSF in this FastCompany article here.

Training Bacteria to Grow Consumer Goods Fri, 18 Nov 2011 11:53:45

Read the article here.

"Build Life to Understand It" argue Lim and Elowitz Thu, 07 Apr 2011 14:13:38 Biologists and engineers should work together: synthetic biology reveals how organisms develop and function, argue Michael Elowitz and Wendell A. Lim in Nature 468, December 2010

"Although traditional disciplinary boundaries are dissolving, the cultural differences between scientists and engineers remain strong. For biologists, genetic modification is a tool to understand natural systems, not an end in itself. Thus, making biological systems 'engineerable' — a goal of engineers in the field of synthetic biology — can seem pointless. Many biologists wonder why engineers fail to appreciate the intricate, beautiful and sophisticated designs that occur naturally. Engineers are often equally perplexed by biologists. Why are they so obsessed about the details of one particular system? Why don't they appreciate the value of replacing a complex and idiosyncratic system with a simpler, more modular and more predictable alternative? These misunderstandings can make for fascinating conversations, but they can also prevent mutually beneficial synergies."

Post by Synthetic Aesthetics Sat, 18 Dec 2010 03:00:10

IDEO brainstorm

Preparing dna sample for gel analysis Fri, 17 Sep 2010 20:13:46

cutting tec01 away from plasmid Thu, 09 Sep 2010 06:04:13 Restriction enzymes cut DNA in the correct place

Learning what can be done with polymerase, copying Tec 1 using PCR Tue, 07 Sep 2010 23:46:32


Many copies of Tec 1 have been successfully copied using PCR, both Adam and I were really impressed by the ability of polymerase to copy the exact part of the cell required for our experiment. It made us think that this machine like functions at such a small cellular level, could be used for other applications. What if we could take such principle sand apply them to the actual material and its behavior in various conditions. We imagined how this might affect packaging, the design of behavior in material object s and other opportunities that make up the physical environment of our everyday life’s.

Adam is preparing media to grow our e-coli bacteria, could this scene be inspiration for what the factories of tomorrow may look like? As designers we often stay one step  removed from the factory floors that manufacture and assemble the consumer goods that we design.  Taking a hands on approach to the creation of altered living cells is certainly one step ahead of what we are used to designing. Could this be the beginning of a new material future, are these the tools that may one day be in the hands of many or is this just confined to the specialist of the laboratory?

The process of problem solving, being comfortable with not knowing the answer. Tue, 07 Sep 2010 23:34:38 — Uri Alon, 2009

Uri Alon speaks about the challenges scientist face when choosing the focus of their experimental work and paper writing, he draws a interesting parallel with the sense of confusion and disorientation that one can feel when stuck in what he calls the cloud. This is the fuzzy space between the start of your research point A and the end, point B. Alon notes that few scientist are comfortable with deviating from their initial goal of getting to point B, and he believes that being comfortable with an alternative direction and destination such as point C vs point B is essential for getting to better and more interesting results.

As designers we often face similar challenges when we embark on design projects, with either a particular set of assumptions, or project goals set by a brief. User centered research and observations often call for a reframing of the original questions set by a brief, resulting in a course correction in what the original intent of the project should be. The ability to make discoveries and being comfortable in not knowing what the end result will look like is something that design process enables us to be comforatble with.

The cross over in process between science and design is a rich space to learn from. Can design bring alternative methods and process that can enable better scientific questions to be asked? Can science give designers a rich space to challenge their creative abilities?






Getting to know the Lim Lab Tue, 07 Sep 2010 22:47:36 There is an abundance of clear liquid, colored plastic and tools for moving liquid between containers in the lab. The smell of yeast lingers and people move with purpose around the lab preparing and initiating experiments to study the cell signaling behaviors of cells.