In addition to the societal relationship we have to plastics, another motive for collaborating with CMBD was to help with research and design of biodegradable marine algal polymers. Traditional techniques from the ‘plastic arts’ are useful. I demonstrated the making of an easy release, two piece mould to my collaborators for the creation of 3D bio-polymer scaffolds.
Novel product design depends upon cultural shift for it to be accepted. It was encouraging to see the inclusion of a biodegradable plastic garment in the online catalogue of an iconic Australian Department Store. Although the technology modelled above is not marine based as with this project, the focus upon biodegradability as a selling point within the fashion industry hopefully indicates a trend toward responsible behaviour and future demand for biodegradable plastics within the mainstream.
Within material and cultural studies, it is important that an artefact reflects the zeitgeist in which it is produced. Note here the underlying themes of anthropocentric crisis; consumption, responsibility and Covid 19.
Moist seaweed bio-polymer film as a comfortable dressing
Microscopy of film above before soaking showing porosity
Future trouble shooting required as soaking film results in rolling
The project has progressed well thus far but it has not been without failures. Failures are an important part of the learning process allowing for the identification of troubleshooting strategies and leading to improvements.
Failed seaweed polymer film 31/5/2020
Failed seaweed polymer films 31/5/2020
Failed seaweed polymer water proof film 20/5/2020
Failed to fully cross link 3D polymer scaffold 20/5/2020
Faulty application seaweed skin polymer ‘mask’ 15/4/2020.
Cross-linked moist seaweed polymer film failed to remain flat 20/5/2020
I remember hearing, as a child, a story of seaweed being used to predict weather. Seaweed was nailed outside the home and if the air was moist the seaweed would re-hydrate, signifying that rain was eminent.
Behaving much like natural seaweed, the seaweed polymer ‘leather’ films we produced softened somewhat in damp weather and became difficult to sew and work with. We need to sort out this problem.
The brown algal derived polymers shown in earlier posts contain alginate and carageenan. These two ingredients are flexible and give seaweed the amazing ability to dry and re-hydrate many times over. Polymers made from alginate and carageenan need cross-linking to make them water resistant. To date we have not successfully produced a fully waterproof brown seaweed polymer but we are working toward this. My research revealed that agar produces water resistant polymers. (1)
Bio-technologist Peng Su advised that red seaweed contains agar. We ground dried samples of red seaweed collected from Beachport South Australia and made experimental polymer films combining brown and red seaweed derivatives.
Pharmaceutical grade seaweed polymer blends were made resulting in some excellent films which retained fine surface textures and I expect would be good to print on. I will try to run though a printer at some stage.
We also spoke of experimental spray application of liquid polymer and cross linker, inspired by Professor Fiona Wood. (2)
(1) Peluso Fara, Material Driven Design, Sculpting with Bioplastic Textile, Art Laboratory Berlin, zoom live, 6 May 2020
(2) Wood F, Keynote:The Goal of Regeneration, Quite Frankly Conference, Symbiotica, UWA, Perth Oct 2018,
What is our relationship to plastic?
Where does our waste go?
‘Óut of sight out of mind’ is a re-occurring scenario within the plastics problem.
Biodegradable Seaweed Polymer Crisis Mask links two current states of crisis; the Covid19 situation and the plastics water pollution problem. Crisis Mask is inspired by images in social media of discarded face masks ending up in our waterways.
Referring back to this microscopic image of the freeze dried material I took at CMBD.
The freeze dried matrix looks similar to the microscopy of Pelling Lab’s apple and microscopy of Vacanti’s ear mouse (image below). The Vacanti mouse has proved inspirational to several artists working with wet biology including Tissue Culture and Art Project, Stelarc and myself. The Ear Mouse has informed my chimeric interfaces including; Chimera series (2001), Blood flowers (2003), Man A Plant (2006), Matrix (2016) and The Colonised Body (2016).
(above) ‘Polyglycolic acid polymer seeded with dissociated cells.’ Vacanti’s ear mouse (Forkus Brittany, Ear on a Mouse, OpenWetWare.org)
“One of the pivotal considerations in the design of this polymer scaffold for the engineering of replacement tissues is in regards to the selection of an appropriate matrix material. This ideal scaffolding material would need to have several essential characteristics and tuning capabilities for proper functionality in this application for it must be–biocompatible, mechanically stable, flexible, controllably degradable, resorbable, and capable of making specific chemical interactions with the seeded cells. In terms of biocompatibility, it is essential that the polymer avoids eliciting an undesired immune response in the host which could ultimately result in immune rejection and procedural failure. Physically, the matrix needs to have a certain degree of mechanical stability and flexibility to ensure that it can provide the necessary support and space for tissue formation, so that it can be easily designed and constructed into variable shapes and structure, and it must be able to withstand the procedure and in vivo environment in order to maintain this structure upon implantation. Finally, some desirable tuning capabilities of the ideal polymer scaffold would entail tunable degradation characteristics, the matrix should be capable of resorbing to the body while leaving only natural, functional tissue, and the manipulation of surface chemistry to dictate desired interactions between the seeded cells and the matrix surface.’ (Forkus Brittany, Ear on a Mouse, OpenWetWare.org)
The Pelling Lab apple and the Vacanti mouse matrices are both layered with collagen for cells to adhere to. Perhaps collagen can be swapped out for seaweed alginate if biocompatable.
Current range of Polymer materials
-liquid, 2D film, 3D model
methods for applying chemical cross polymer
-spraying, dipping, soaking
-air, oven, freeze -20 Celcius, freeze dry
I am looking for a casting material that will hold surface detail with reduced distortion/shrink rate. Further to this, can we seed the polymer with cells? Can we make a matrix that maintains cell viability? Can the polymer maintain form (and what is the optimum duration) in a growth medium? Can growth be maintained in a bioreactor?
Problems identified in earlier 3D scaffold testing are polymer shrinkage, bulging & distortion and loss of surface detail due to soft consistency before cross linking.
-freeze -20C to minimise shrinkage
-slow down cross linkage by reducing temperature, amount of chemical and dip rather than soak
After cross linking in frozen state surface detail and shape are maintained.
Since 2001, human-plant & human-animal hybrids, Chimeras, have manifested in my artworks.
In 2013, I met Andrew Pelling when we participated in the Toxicity bio-art project in Winnipeg Canada. Pelling was showing his work “Repurposed” which included ear shaped apple sculptures supporting human cells. The research article below co-authored by Andrew Pelling might provide insight toward seeding our scaffolds with cells.
Modlevsky et al, Apple Derived Cellulose Scaffolds for 3D Mammalian Cell Culture, journals.plos.org, 2014
A simple cylinder shape was selected to create 3D bio-polymer prototypes. Simplicity of form is desired at this stage to make variations evident. The same 3D bio-polymer formula was manipulated via different drying methods; aqueous storage, freeze drying and air drying. We are testing for moisture holding capacity and shrink rate.
The samples cast with some distortion; external shrinkage causing bulging due to chemical cross-linking of the polymer. Sample (a) and (c) were soft and nice to carve. The freeze dried material was porous and open; possibly useful for seeding with other materials.
Only the structure of the freeze dried sample (b) is visible under microscopy. A combination of films and fibres were observed.
Air dried, sample (c) continued to shrink and bulge. Microbial contamination is apparently a ‘good thing’ as it evidences the ability of the polymer to support life.
Aqueous environment, sample (a) showed markedly less shrinkage and was also contaminated.
Unrefined experimental natural seaweed 3D bio-polymer was produced toward the goal for zero waste and less energy consumption.