Generation Modification: Materials for 2050

Curated by Chris Lefteri
Roca London Gallery, October 2013

The event, held a Zaha Hadid’s London Roca Gallery as part of London Design Festival, was a series of talks curated by materials specialist and designer Chris Lefteri, with the theme of material resources that will be available for designers by 2050. The event introduction read: “By blurring the line between biology and synthetics, these designers are dissecting and manipulating nature until you can’t distinguish between what is natural or artificial.”

There were five speakers who had each developed unique and futuristic materials or processes. These were;

Masami Lavault — The Milk of Human Kindness

Masami gave a talk on the use of waste food products, in this case milk, to turn into plastic and other products. The development of a novel moulding technique during her project allowed the manufacture of large casein-plastic objects where previously manufacture of only small objects had been possible using milk protein.

In an almost entirely environmentally friendly process, it is proposed that waste milk is delivered by the cows themselves to a local waste collection service in packsaddle containers to the workshops where it is turned, with minimal resource and energy input, into biodegradable moulded casein objects.

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Sarat Babu — Synthetic Materials, Organic Hierarchies

Sarat’s talk on Synthetic Materials, Organic Hierarchies focused on shape changing composites and how new manufacturing technologies are enabling new material possibilities through structural complexity.

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Shamees Aden — Protocells: a new ‘living’ material technology?

Consisting of RNA replicas and a fatty acid membrane, Protocells are a pared down and simple version of a cell, capable of growth, replication, and evolution. The study of these cells is a new and emerging science, and although a working version of a Protocell has not yet been achieved in a laboratory setting, the goal appears well within reach.

Since this is a living technology, there is the potential for Protocells to be used as a material with which to create adaptable products, enabling them to change in response to their surroundings.

In her project, Shamees proposes by way of a conceptual prototype, a surface adapting trainer which is capable if synchronising to the wearers’ foot in shape, as well as adapting in real time to activity by adding extra support in high impact areas.

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Jeongwon Ji — BioElectric

In her project, Jeongwon explored the use of bio-plastics for the casings of electronic products.

She suggests the use of the crushed shells of the Chinese Mitten Crab, currently an unused resource which invades rivers in its native china, and moulding them using wood in an entirely environmentally friendly process. Despite having a longer process time, the use of this non-toxic bio-plastic improved the work life of those who manufacture the electronic components.

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Carole Collet — The new synthetics: designing with synthetic biology

Carole described her speculative design-led research project which investigated the potential of biological manufacturing by exploring the cellular programming of morphogenesis in plant systems. She speculated on the creation of a hybrid programmed strawberry plant which would produce black lace from it’s roots at the same time as strawberry fruits with enhanced levels of Vitamin C and Antioxydants. In this way the plant produces textiles which humans could harvest as well as a fruit with higher nutritional values to help over come the possibility of food shortages in the future due to over population.

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Biolace. Image copyright © Carole Collet /