All posts by anneliekoller

DIY Microscope

I created a microscope platform that could be used for the DIY microscope and iphone microscope.

I included an led light below the slide platform so the specimen would be illuminated from the top and below.  I also did a comparison between my DIY camera and my own lab grade microscope and the results were quite amazing. The DIY microscope’s photography compared way better than the microscope, but the microscope had a 2MP camera that doesn’t  take such good pictures. But in future if i have larger specimens, the DIY camera will be a better solution for photography.

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Protocell under microscope from AnnA KollA on Vimeo.

Images of DIY microscope:

Images from DIY Microscope:

Images from Amscope B120c with 2MP camera.

Midterm – Re:Cell by Ali, Annelie & Wes

We, as the human race, has come to the serious realisation that we cannot keep abusing nature for our own personal gain.  We have to reconsider our approach and the only answer is for us move away from the anthropocentric system that relies so heavily on natural resources towards a systems that embrace rather than dominate the natural environment.

Ali, Wes and myself had a great interest to discover just what that statement means and how we can repurpose nature in way that does not only not exhaust it, but can actually replenish it at the same time. The project brief opened up a floodgate of possibilities and we dove head first into all the various technologies currently available to us.

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We wanted to create the ultimate repurposing machine called Re:Cell. A mobile lab that had the capability of discovering usable materials in nature and in particular the parts of nature that in that in the past was considered debris, but with this new philosophy we realise that it is all part of an adaptive system, a feedback loop with evolutionary steps and thus there had to be many ways to revitalise and reuse this ‘debris’. This lab would be able to sense usable material and be a ecosystem of its own tthatt would produce the necessary chemical and biological reactions to activate the rebuilding of debris.

L2010-4068   22f82dec23596683394adc211704d207This took us down a path of exploration, we had experience with materials such as kombucha and mycelia, but our approach was to go beyond an end product to a system that could self-propagate and self-actualise and thereby provide solutions to a world in disrepair and we started to investigate what one could do with the skeletons of nature, the bits that were once left for dead.

In our dystopic, disaster zone that we would need to rebuild we focussed on the materials that would still be there and that could be used to regenerate the area. We came up wiht the following scenarios


  1. Decellularization of decaying protein matter to create scaffold for future growth of new tissue cultures.
  2. The retraction of the sea and the drought in rivers would expose the shells of countless sea life and the chitin they contain have many useful properties, not only in creating bioplastics, but also in electricity storage and conductivity.
  3. Mycelia as the biological succes story of survival and longevity. (Their spores aparently can survive out in space, they are said to grow and propogate from the same mycelial base for centuries and they have the ability to cleanse surrounding areas of toxins, not to mention that they are edible and grow from debris)
  4. Algae and its potential use as biofuel, nourishment and fibre.


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This is a process currently only used in the medical fields where mammalian flesh is reduced to its protein scaffolds and used to grow new cells on through tissue culture. Our idea speculated that in the future it will be quite possible to reduce plant and animal life down to its protein scaffolds and grow tissue or cell culture on this scaffold. It is huge leap, but not impossible, that just like we are able to grow new tissue over organs, we will be able to grow large areas of cells that could create canopies and other external forms of protection. They are already growing leather in labs.

We attempted to see what the chemical process was and made samples with 4 different materials: meat, mushrooms, carrots and seaweed. Decellurisation happens when organic matter is left in a detergent and the current standard is Sodium dodecyl sulfate (or sodium lauryl sulfate as it is known in the cosmetics industry) and is used in soaps and shampoos.

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Setting up the samples : Meat, carrot, algae and mushrooms.


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The most successful of our samples was the meat and almost all the extraneous cellular matter was removed and we were left with a white protein scaffold. Unfortunately we could not experiment beyond this point as we don’t have the knowledge of growing tissue culture yet.


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Our next step was to move onto chitin. Chitin is the second most abundant substance in the world after cellulose and is found in exoskeletons of crustaceans, in the mycelial walls of mushrooms and cell walls of insects. It is considered a biopolymer and there is currently a lot of research going into the development of the derivative, chitosan as a bioplastic.  Mycelia is also currently a hot topic in the building industry as packaging material and insulation. But we wanted to see if we could find another use for the multi-use material. Our research lead us to the latest direction that mycelia and chitin is being researched for: conductivity. But for our mobile lab, we wanted to see if there was a way that we could store energy using this organic matter for later use.

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We found a reference that said that chitin could be used in the creation of a supercapacitor. So we set about building one with household chemicals and materials, but in our mobile lab we would have had access to half of our materials direct from natural debris.

What is a supercapacitor?

Capacitors can store power. Batteries can hold large amounts of power, but they take hours to charge up. Supercapacitors, on the other hand, charge almost instantly and can store large amounts of power. In our electric-powered future, when we need to store and release large amounts of electricity very quickly, it’s quite likely we’ll turn to supercapacitors(also known as ultracapacitors) that combine the best of both worlds.

What does a supercapacitor consist of?

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“Supercapacitor have two plates that are separated. The plates are made from metal coated with a porous substance such as powdery, activated charcoal, which effectively gives them a bigger area for storing much more charge. Imagine electricity is water for a moment: where an ordinary capacitor is like a cloth that can mop up only a tiny little spill, a supercapacitor’s porous plates make it more like a chunky sponge that can soak up many times more. Porous supercapacitor plates are electricity sponges!” For more info:

We did research and found out that we could replace the activated charcoal with activated chitin.

Below is the protocol for our experiment:


  1. Cuttlefish bone (which we reduced down to chitin)
  2. Hydrochloric Acid ( We use toilet cleaner)
  3. Potassium Carbonate (We use drain cleaner)
  4. Graphite
  5. Copper wire
  6. Sodium Chloride (Common table salt)
  7. Iodine
  8. Separator made out of thick cellulose paper. (we also found out in our research that kombucha can be used.)


In our mobile lab  we would be able to get the following ingredients from nature. 

  1. Seawater – Ionic Solution
  2. Seawater – Sodium Hydroxide- electrolysed Sodium Chloride (salt)
  3. Shellfish – Chitin
  4. Porous membrane – Kombucha (acetobacter)

What our mobile lab would need:

  1. Graphite
  2. Hydrochloric acid
  3. Wire
  4. Containers
  5. Electrical Source

Protocoll for supercapacitor.

Step 1:

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Dissolve the cuttlefish bone in the acid. The chitin will separate from the liquid and become a gel like subsctance at the bottom. This is then neutralised with the potassium carbonate and left to dry down to a powder.

The mixture had a reaction with aluminium foil. We later dried the mixture on glass.

Step 2:

Create positive and negative electrode out of graphite and copper wire.


Step 3:

Create a ionic solution with table salt and iodine.


Step 4:

Separate the chitin into two separate containers. The separator needs to be solid enough not to transfer current, but porous enough to allow ionic movement. Add one graphite electrode to each.


Step 5:

Charge the electrodes.


The result:

Our supercapacitor was not so successful, but it think our separator was too porous and our graphite was the wrong kind. With more experimentation we would have succeeded. And we are all keen to continue this investigation.


With the discovery of the chitin superconductor we investigated how to make electricity with minimal materials and found that you can make electricity with magnets and a wheel.


The key to making electricity from magnets is the rotary action and this lent itself perfectly to put the whole system on a wheel. A self-powering wheel system that could provide electricity, store electricity in the supercapacitor and be used as transport  – with a little stretch of the imagination this is all technically possible.

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We imagined the rotation of the could further be use in the supercapacitor itself. We would pour the solution from one container to the next to mix with the various chemicals and then the powder would dry in the network of tubes in the middle.


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Although none of our devices of inquiry worked this time around, the research we did proved that all our proposals are possible and with a little time and research behind it we could be solving a lot of energy problems in a future of debris and learn to embrace the relationship technology affords us with nature.

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“By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.”   Franz Kafka

Two Cultures Review


One has to wonder why Snow’s lecture has continued to draw flagrant responses over the last fifty years. The lecture is fairly impertinent and opinionated and rather than propose ways in which on can bridge the schism between the humanities and sciences, it quite blatantly pits the intellectuals from science against whom he calls natural Luddites, the literary intelligentsia. What did he unearth with this debate that gets the blood boiling and why is it still relevant today?

One has to see the lecture firstly from within context that it was written: Post war England. Snow’s vision was shaped by the fact that he saw himself as “being in a country sliding economically downhill.” He believed that the success of the future of Britain lay in technological investment and scientific thinking and that the conservative traditionalists and intellectuals were not supportive in embracing these new ways of progressing an economy. He went as far as calling the Literary intellectuals backward looking as apposed to the field of science that he saw as more than just a profession, but “something more like a directing class of a new society.”

He blamed these intellectuals for throttling what he believed could alleviate world poverty and stimulate national growth, and what he believed in was progress.

Thus I think the reason why this lecture is still relevant today is not because it applies to the cultures of science versus the culture of the literary intellectual, but rather about an attitude towards progress: the culture that knows the power of it versus the culture that chooses to stay ignorant.

It was also highly likely that his outburst came from a place of frustration in seeing his cronies in the literary world being ignorant about the potential difference that new technology would have and not only on industry, but on education as well. He saw education as a way to alleviate poverty and grow the national wealth.

“There is no excuse for letting another generation be as vastly ignorant, or as devoid of understanding and sympathy, as we are ourselves.”

He was further also fighting for a philosophy that embraces advancement as a group and not only for the benefit of the individual. And I don’t think he was asking for a turf war, but rather for the two cultures to consider collaboration for a more multi-dimensional perspective and stressed the importance of sharing knowledge to keep the group prosperous and secure.

His thoughts are almost more relevant today, fifty years on, where we are indeed approaching a new industrial revolution that really embraces this third culture he was hoping for. Concepts like open-source are advancing technology exponentially through a collective pool of knowledge.

Academic interest in the importance of science in the humanities and arts is seen not only in the industry’s demand for science and technology professionals, but also in the push it is receiving within the education system towards STEM education.

Snow speaks of the sheer force of science that cannot be restrained and will keep changing the world and if we can harness the joint knowledge of two cultures, embrace new technology and educate the next generation we have the power to change the world.

Closing the gap between [the two cultures] is a necessity in the most abstract intellectual sense, as well as in the most practical. When those two senses have grown apart, then no society is going to be able to think with wisdom. For the sake of the intellectual life, … for the sake of the western society living precariously rich among the poor, for the sake of the poor who needn’t be poor if there is intelligence in the world, it is obligatory for … the whole West to look at our education with fresh eyes.


Annelie Intro


By now you hopefully know that I am Annelie, second year MFA DT.

I am an architect by original profession, but I have also worked in film, publishing, advertising and installation design and I now find myself here at Parsons.

For my thesis I am investigating semi-living buildings and biofabrication. I believe that we are approaching an era where the built environment will be hybridised with biological matter. With this we will need to develop a new language of design, one for which we don’t have a vocabulary yet, and develop a new toolkit with which to design, build or grow  semi-living structures. In this new system we will not only have to address the changing relationship between human and the environment, but also human and matter as this architecture will not be made of inert construction materials, but with materials that come with the responsibilities of life.

I will be researching two areas of study: speculative construction tools and actual biofabrication.

I have found that the explanation of semi-living architecture as a concept is not being understood nor was the aesthetics of what I am proposing digested very well.  I wanted to find a way through which to use this new vocabulary and introduce the general public to the potential look and feel, but without the initial trepidation that goes with it. I realised that to change perspective one needs to use familiarity. I will thus make a series of tools that you would be able to  buy in the future hardware store, but by then it will most probably be called  a wetware store.

I also want to work with actual biomaterials and I have recently become a member at Genspace. Here I will continue my studies on chitin in Mycelia and hopefully Algae as well. I am hoping to develop bioplastics and also investigate the conductivity of mycelia.

I am currently also involved with the organisation of a conference called Biofabricate which will be held in December.

This is me….





Re:Cell Mobile Testing Device

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The Re:Cell mobile lab is a system that tests disaster areas for useable materials and byproducts to re:purpose for the rapid and sustainable re:building of the affected zone.

The mobile testing facility functions on two levels:

Level 1: Testing for biological, chemical and material waste and byproducts that can be re:purposed.

Level 2: Protection and Sustenance of the First re:sponder


The Re:Cell Testing Unit

The Re:Cell unit is a wearable device consists of the following parts:

  1. Re:Sense
  2. Re:Fuel
  3. Re:Build


The Re:Sense glove tests the environment for the following conditions:

  1. Gas
    1. Carbon Monoxide
    2. Methane
    3. Hydrogen
    4. Liquid Petroleum Gas
  2. Hall Effects Sensor
  3. Ph Litmus
  4. Geiger Counter
  5. Soil Moisture Sensors
  6. Dust Sensor

Once the conditions are established, it will calculate the potential hazards and reusability of the found condition  ie. The PH test will signal acidity. This acidity can be used to breakdown the cell walls of chitinous plant or animal life that can then be re:used for a superconductor or bioplastic.


This is where level two comes into play. The wearable device itself will function as its own ecosystem to refuel the device as well as provide the first re:sponder with necessary nutrition and detoxification.

It will feature elements such as an algae bioreactor, mycelium detoxification dome, bio-litmus PH detector and vitamin deficiency meter.

The process is as follows:


Examples could be:

Air quality Sensor => Senses CO2 =>  (LEVEL 1:AREA) CO2 is used in preservation and can be used to preserve materials so that they don’t rot. => (LEVEL 2: USER) Feeds plantlife on lives on garment that could be a source of food(mineral)

PH Sensor =>Changes color of litmus on suit => (LEVEL 1:AREA) Find acids (Used to make supercapacitor) or Alkali => (LEVEL 2: USER) Balances users internal PH

Methane Gas Sensor => Senses decay and potential energy source =>  (LEVEL 1:AREA) Source of energy => (LEVEL 2: USER) Decay feeds Mycelium  in Suit for food to user.


Once the elements are identified and the user is safe, the Re:Build can proceed. The Re:Cell suit will store the protocols and necessary trace elements and chemicals to produce the biomaterials required.

We will be experimenting with chitin to create a superconductor to support this step in our research.


Programming Garment Chemical +Bio
Week 1 Order Parts + Code Aduino Prototype Garment Design Protoype biobuilding materials
Week 2 Assemble HardwareBuild Geiger Counter Test hardware with Garment Bioreactor + Superconductor
Week 3 Assemble hardware into Garment Assemble hardware into Garment Decellularization



The Nanotech Cookbook:


Algae Bioreactor


Chitin Superconductor




Technical Drawing:

We will be working with an Arduino Uno and various sensors built into a garment with visible response outputs. We will also be building biomaterial into the garment itself that will either test or provide for the system.


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Ali, Annelie & Wes





Re:Cell – A mobile testing lab for disaster zone reconstitution.

We will create a mobile lab for rebuilding disaster affected areas by creating new materials and structures from the remnants. We aim to send in a probe to test the quality and chemical constitution of the remnants from where will be able to propose suitable biotechnological interventions to produce materials from which we can create new habitable environments.


Areas that we will be exploring include decellularization, mycelium and bioreactors as a start.

We are imagining that we will be able to create cellulose scaffold from the plant remains which will then be used to rebuild the environment. Or use decaying materials to grow mycelium which will produce biobricks on site and would not need to be transported to the areas in need. Natural bioreactor can also be built using the elements that we find.


Our mobile lab will contain the tools to test the environment, a probe that can venture into the disaster area without harming the lab operator and have starter cultures to produce the necessary biomaterials. The results we hope  will exist in symbiosis with the nature and the human and will allow for the quick and natural creation of new structures in post disaster areas.



Ali, Annelie & Wes

Kombucha Workshop

In this workshop we will be making Scoby from Kombucha tea. If this is all foreign to you, here are some answers:

What is kombucha?

The tea fungus ‘Kombucha’ is a symbiosis of Acetobacter (a bacteria that can oxidase of ethanol to acetic acid during fermentation) and yeast. Many people around the world drink the fermented tea for its health benefits (yes fermented food is really healthy for you, but note there is a difference between fermented and rancid).

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Scoby also know as the starter culture or “mother”.

However there is a drive towards biomaterials at the moment: materials that are either synthesized naturally or inspired by nature;  we all know the impact that man-made material is having on the planet. So we will not be making the tea for health benefits, although you are welcome to drink it, but to create the thick layer of biomaterial or scoby (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) that forms on the top of this tea. The scoby creates a leatherlike substance once dried and this has been used in various fashion experiments and has helped us develop theories and techniques for future explorations into biomaterials.



During this workshop we will create the foundation so you can create your own scoby from where you can grow it to any size you want. (it grows to the size of the container that you put it in.)


Things to remember:

  1. When working with biological material, always keep it very sanitary. Clean your equipment with alcohol, hot water or iodine. Soap and detergents might kill your specimen. Dirt will leave with you contaminated, smelly and unsuccessful projects
  2. Biology takes time, so be patient. The longer you wait, the greater the reward. But you do need to take care of the specimen along the way. Keep it clean, keep the temperature and light for optimum growing conditions and keep an eye on it.
  3. If things do get contaminated, bleach kills just about anything and you should discard your specimen in bleach.

What you need to bring:

  • 1/2- 1 c. kombucha tea ( you can bring store-bought kombucha, but try for the organic, raw variety, any additives can harm your bacteria. )


  • 2-3 teabags: green, or black caffeinated teas work best
  • 3-4 tablespoons of White sugar (this is the food of the bacteria so the more sugar you add, the more it will have to eat.)
  • 2 cups of spring water
  • 50ml white or apple cider vinegar
  • A clean container that has not been washed with detergent. The scoby will take on the shape of the container, so if you want to be creative…
  • A clean breathable cloth that we will use to cover the container.


What we will be doing:

  1. Heat half of the water to boiling
  2. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. The sugar (glucose) is the food for the Acetobacter to feed on and ferment.
  3. Add tea bags to the boiling water with sugar. Herbal or Earl Grey tea are not recommended!
  4. Cover and steep for 10 minutes. Remove teabags and allow to cool for 20-30 minutes.
  5. Pour the room temperature tea into clean container. Add remaining spring water. Cover and cool to room temperature.
  6. Add vinegar, Kombucha SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) and reserve kombucha starter to your tea. Use gloves or wash clean hands to touch scoby.
  7. Cover with breathable clean cloth. Secure with a rubber band or tape to keep fruit flies from invading.
  8. Allow to sit undisturbed for at least 7 days, or until scoby is desired thickness (it takes at least 2 weeks to reach 1/2 “ thickness, which dries to be like thin leather. Thinner scabies once dried can be similar to parchment)
  9. Adjust the pH using paper strips if desired. Ideal kombucha should have a ph of 3-5.5

Video on how to make your own Kombucha