Teresa van Dongen: Nature as a source of energy

Teresa van Dongen has created a lamp that requires no electrical current. It functions purely from the energy of ocean bacteria.

Teresa van Dongen was a student of biology before she chose design as a career path. The 2014 graduate of Design Academy Eindhoven, who presented in the Pecha Kucha session at Design Indaba Conference 2015, channelled her interest in the natural world into her bioluminescent light installation, Ambio.  

“It is a visualisation of my research into how we can use nature as a source of energy,” says Van Dongen about Ambio, which was her graduation project.

“If we look into the combination of science, biology and design,” she says. “I think there is something really good going on there.”

Ambio uses a bacteria that van Dongen acquired with the help of two scientists from the Technical University Delft. They extracted special micro-organisms from the skin of an octopus that emit light when provided with oxygen.

The lamp is a long tube filled with water containing the bioluminescent bacteria. The bacterium emits light when it moves, so rather than using electricity, the light is switched on when it is set in motion. Designed with a counterweight like a mobile, the lamp remains in motion for a long time after it’s given a gentle push.

“As long as there is movement there is light,” she explains.

“Right now it’s really something that can inspire people, I hope it will inspire people,” she laughs. “To see nature as a source of energy. “

The bright idea for the bacterial lamp was inspired by the natural phenomenon of bioluminescence in the sea. Van Dongen says, “A lot of people have actually seen this phenomenon: Whenever a wave turns and there is a specific organism in those waves, the bacteria reacts to the oxygen that mixes when the wave is turning and it emits light.”

“It’s a magic phenomenon in nature.”

There are many developments and phenomena that you come across in biology that are not widely known. Design, she says, is a great tool to bring these developments to larger audiences.