Adonis Diaries

Archive for November 1st, 2015

Intersection of technology and biology: Design is king

Designer and architect Neri Oxman is leading the search for ways in which digital fabrication technologies can interact with the biological world.

Two twin domes, two radically opposed design cultures.

One is made of thousands of steel parts, the other of a single silk thread.

One is synthetic, the other organic.

One is imposed on the environment, the other creates it.

One is designed for nature (for people?), the other is designed by nature.

Michelangelo said that when he looked at raw marble, he saw a figure struggling to be free. The chisel was Michelangelo’s only tool. But living things are not chiseled. They grow.

And in our smallest units of life, our cells, we carry all the information that’s required for every other cell to function and to replicate.

Patsy Z and TEDxSKE shared a link.

01:05 Tools also have consequences. At least since the Industrial Revolution, the world of design has been dominated by the rigors of manufacturing and mass production. Assembly lines have dictated a world made of parts, framing the imagination of designers and architects who have been trained to think about their objects as assemblies of discrete parts with distinct functions.

But you don’t find homogenous material assemblies in nature.

Take human skin, for example. Our facial skins are thin with large pores. Our back skins are thicker, with small pores. One acts mainly as filter, the other mainly as barrier, and yet it’s the same skin: no parts, no assemblies.

It’s a system that gradually varies its functionality by varying elasticity. So here this is a split screen to represent my split world view, the split personality of every designer and architect operating today between the chisel and the gene, between machine and organism, between assembly and growth, between Henry Ford and Charles Darwin.

These two worldviews, my left brain and right brain, analysis and synthesis, will play out on the two screens behind me. My work, at its simplest level, is about uniting these two worldviews, moving away from assembly and closer into growth.

 You’re probably asking yourselves: Why now? Why was this not possible 10 or even five years ago?

We live in a very special time in history, a rare time, a time when the confluence of 4 fields is giving designers access to tools we’ve never had access to before.

These fields are:

1.  computational design, allowing us to design complex forms with simple code;

2. additive manufacturing, letting us produce parts by adding material rather than carving it out;

3. materials engineering, which lets us design the behavior of materials in high resolution; and

4. synthetic biology, enabling us to design new biological functionality by editing DNA.

And at the intersection of these four fields, my team and I create. Please meet the minds and hands of my students.

We design objects and products and structures and tools across scales, from the large-scale, like this robotic arm with an 80-foot diameter reach with a vehicular base that will one day soon print entire buildings, to nano-scale graphics made entirely of genetically engineered microorganisms that glow in the dark.

Here we’ve reimagined the mashrabiya, an archetype of ancient Arabic architecture, and created a screen where every aperture is uniquely sized to shape the form of light and heat moving through it.

In our next project, we explore the possibility of creating a cape and skirt — this was for a Paris fashion show with Iris van Herpen like a second skin that are made of a single part, stiff at the contours, flexible around the waist.

Together with my long-term 3D printing collaborator Stratasys, we 3D-printed this cape and skirt with no seams between the cells, and I’ll show more objects like it.

This helmet combines stiff and soft materials in 20-micron resolution. This is the resolution of a human hair. It’s also the resolution of a CT scanner.

That designers have access to such high-resolution analytic and synthetic tools, enables to design products that fit not only the shape of our bodies, but also the physiological makeup of our tissues.

Next, we designed an acoustic chair, a chair that would be at once structural, comfortable and would also absorb sound.

Professor Carter, my collaborator, and I turned to nature for inspiration, and by designing this irregular surface pattern, it becomes sound-absorbent. We printed its surface out of 44 different properties, varying in rigidity, opacity and color, corresponding to pressure points on the human body. Its surface, as in nature, varies its functionality not by adding another material or another assembly, but by continuously and delicately varying material property.

But is nature ideal? Are there no parts in nature?

I wasn’t raised in a religious Jewish home, but when I was young, my grandmother used to tell me stories from the Hebrew Bible, and one of them stuck with me and came to define much of what I care about.

As she recounts: “On the third day of Creation, God commands the Earth to grow a fruit-bearing fruit tree.” For this first fruit tree, there was to be no differentiation between trunk, branches, leaves and fruit. The whole tree was a fruit.

Instead, the land grew trees that have bark and stems and flowers. The land created a world made of parts. I often ask myself, “What would design be like if objects were made of a single part? Would we return to a better state of creation?”

So we looked for that biblical material, that fruit-bearing fruit tree kind of material, and we found it.

The second-most abundant biopolymer on the planet is called chitin, and some 100 million tons of it are produced every year by organisms such as shrimps, crabs, scorpions and butterflies.

We thought if we could tune its properties, we could generate structures that are multifunctional out of a single part. So that’s what we did.

We called Legal Seafood  and we ordered a bunch of shrimp shells, we grinded them and we produced chitosan paste. By varying chemical concentrations, we were able to achieve a wide array of properties — from dark, stiff and opaque, to light, soft and transparent.

In order to print the structures in large scale, we built a robotically controlled extrusion system with multiple nozzles. The robot would vary material properties on the fly and create these 12-foot-long structures made of a single material, 100 percent recyclable.

When the parts are ready, they’re left to dry and find a form naturally upon contact with air.

So why are we still designing with plastics?

The air bubbles that were a by-product of the printing process were used to contain photosynthetic microorganisms that first appeared on our planet 3.5 billion year ago, as we learned yesterday.

Together with our collaborators at Harvard and MIT, we embedded bacteria that were genetically engineered to rapidly capture carbon from the atmosphere and convert it into sugar.

For the first time, we were able to generate structures that would seamlessly transition from beam to mesh, and if scaled even larger, to windows. A fruit-bearing fruit tree.

Working with an ancient material, one of the first life-forms on the planet, plenty of water and a little bit of synthetic biology, we were able to transform a structure made of shrimp shells into an architecture that behaves like a tree.

And here’s the best part: for objects designed to biodegrade, put them in the sea, and they will nourish marine life; place them in soil, and they will help grow a tree.

The setting for our next exploration using the same design principles was the solar system.

We looked for the possibility of creating life-sustaining clothing for interplanetary voyages. To do that, we needed to contain bacteria and be able to control their flow.

So like the periodic table, we came up with our own table of the elements: new lifeforms that were computationally grown, additively manufactured and biologically augmented.

I like to think of synthetic biology as liquid alchemy, only instead of transmuting precious metals, you’re synthesizing new biological functionality inside very small channels. It’s called microfluidics.

We 3D-printed our own channels in order to control the flow of these liquid bacterial cultures. In our first piece of clothing, we combined two microorganisms.

The first is cyanobacteria. It lives in our oceans and in freshwater ponds. And

 The second, E. coli, the bacterium that inhabits the human gut.

One converts light into sugar, the other consumes that sugar and produces biofuels useful for the built environment.

Now, these two microorganisms never interact in nature. In fact, they never met each other. They’ve been here, engineered for the first time, to have a relationship inside a piece of clothing.

Think of it as evolution Not by natural selection, but evolution by design.

In order to contain these relationships, we’ve created a single channel that resembles the digestive tract, that will help flow these bacteria and alter their function along the way.

We then started growing these channels on the human body, varying material properties according to the desired functionality.

Where we wanted more photosynthesis, we would design more transparent channels. This wearable digestive system, when it’s stretched end to end, spans 60 meters. This is half the length of a football field, and 10 times as long as our small intestines.

And here it is for the first time unveiled at TED — our first photosynthetic wearable, liquid channels glowing with life inside a wearable clothing.

Mary Shelley said, “We are unfashioned creatures, but only half made up.”

What if design could provide that other half? What if we could create structures that would augment living matter? What if we could create personal microbiomes that would scan our skins, repair damaged tissue and sustain our bodies?

Think of this as a form of edited biology. This entire collection, Wanderers, that was named after planets, was not to me really about fashion per se, but it provided an opportunity to speculate about the future of our race on our planet and beyond, to combine scientific insight with lots of mystery and to move away from the age of the machine to a new age of symbiosis between our bodies, the microorganisms that we inhabit, our products and even our buildings. I call this material ecology.

To do this, we always need to return back to nature.

By now, you know that a 3D printer prints material in layers. You also know that nature doesn’t. It grows. It adds with sophistication.

This silkworm cocoon, for example, creates a highly sophisticated architecture, a home inside which to metamorphisize. No additive manufacturing today gets even close to this level of sophistication. It does so by combining not two materials, but two proteins in different concentrations.

One acts as the structure, the other is the glue, or the matrix, holding those fibers together.

And this happens across scales. The silkworm first attaches itself to the environment — it creates a tensile structure — and it then starts spinning a compressive cocoon. Tension and compression, the two forces of life, manifested in a single material.

In order to better understand how this complex process works, we glued a tiny earth magnet to the head of a silkworm, to the spinneret. We placed it inside a box with magnetic sensors, and that allowed us to create this 3-dimensional point cloud and visualize the complex architecture of the silkworm cocoon.

However, when we placed the silkworm on a flat patch, not inside a box, we realized it would spin a flat cocoon and it would still healthily metamorphisize. So we started designing different environments, different scaffolds, and we discovered that the shape, the composition, the structure of the cocoon, was directly informed by the environment.

Silkworms are often boiled to death inside their cocoons, their silk unraveled and used in the textile industry. We realized that designing these templates allowed us to give shape to raw silk without boiling a single cocoon.

14:53 (Applause)

They would healthily metamorphisize, and we would be able to create these things.

So we scaled this process up to architectural scale. We had a robot spin the template out of silk, and we placed it on our site. We knew silkworms migrated toward darker and colder areas, so we used a sun path diagram to reveal the distribution of light and heat on our structure.

We then created holes, or apertures, that would lock in the rays of light and heat, distributing those silkworms on the structure.

We were ready to receive the caterpillars. We ordered 6,500 silkworms from an online silk farm. And after four weeks of feeding, they were ready to spin with us. We placed them carefully at the bottom rim of the scaffold, and as they spin they pupate, they mate, they lay eggs, and life begins all over again — just like us but much, much shorter.

Bucky Fuller said that tension is the great integrity, and he was right.

As they spin biological silk over robotically spun silk, they give this entire pavilion its integrity. And over two to three weeks, 6,500 silkworms spin 6,500 kilometers.

In a curious symmetry, this is also the length of the Silk Road. The moths, after they hatch, produce 1.5 million eggs. This could be used for 250 additional pavilions for the future.

So here they are, the two worldviews. One spins silk out of a robotic arm, the other fills in the gaps.

 If the final frontier of design is to breathe life into the products and the buildings around us, to form a two-material ecology, then designers must unite these two worldviews.

Which brings us back, of course, to the beginning. Here’s to a new age of design, a new age of creation, that takes us from a nature-inspired design to a design-inspired nature, and that demands of us for the first time that we mother nature.

The secret meeting of The Being and the Giant: Jean Paul Sartre and Charles De Gaulle

Jean Paul Sartre and Charles De Gaulle met in secrecy on May 18, 1969 between 11 pm and 2 am in the town of Sneem in Ireland, in the province of Kerry, close to Heron’s Cove where his wife Yvonne and him were settled during their vacation.

De Gaulle had resigned a year ago from power and refused to meddle in the presidential campaign that was raging in France.

Maurice Clavel arranged for this secret meeting by whisking Sartre clandestinely to the meeting place. The two men wanted that the conversation to be kept secret and not to talk about the conversation to anyone and no one was with them to record the communication.

Sartre had written “ L’Etre et le Neant” (The being and the void) and had declined the Nobel of literature for his book “Les Mots“. A decision that frustrated President de Gaulle because it touched the honor of France.

Bernard Fauconnier asked Sartre to write about the meeting and he was to submit the draft to Sartre. The latter died before reading the manuscript.  Fauconnier published his book in 1989.

Did Sartre divulged anything? Did De Gaulle transmit any thing from the conversation?  Or this conversation is a fiction gathered from the literature and stories of these two men?

Apparently, de Gaulle was worried about the Future and wanted to listen to the input of Sartre on the future. Probably, de Gaulle wanted to influence Sartre to convey his worries since the philosopher fascinated the new generations, was considered the godfather of the recurring upheavals and de Gaulle admitted that Sartre was doing well in his mission.

Jean Paul Sartre (this 150 cm and very ugly French philosopher) crossed all the red lines confounding the common sense consensus in the French and European communities.

When Sartre entered the room, de Gaulle was taking a nap and he didn’t stand up to meet Sartre.

De Gaulle was curious: Did you understand anything from the May 1968 upheaval by the youth? My first impression was that these rich kids organized a vast carnival but I had to take action.

Sartre: The movement has taken me by surprise. I met with the youth and followed their discussions but I remained clueless as to their purposes. It was an important symptom, but Not an event. The youth didn’t want to change the world: They wanted to change their traditional life, a path course that was determined by their parents and the community.

De Gaulle was upset that Sartre had signed on a letter that encouraged killing for a cause…

Jean Paul Sartre wrote: When we transcend our pen for a sword, we inevitably end up signing on calls for murder.

De Gaulle said:  We pretended to fight confused passions. We struggled for a cohort of denied and refused principles. And we strove to pay back a very cruel reality.

Jean Paul Sartre told de Gaulle: When I read what I published decades ago, I don’t understand much of what I meant. It is as my double was dictating to me. All these lucubration trying to affirm the free-will of individuals and encouraging them to stand fast. It is my double the clever one and I have been carrying him all along.

Sartre poured some whiskey in the glass of de Gaulle who reacted obfuscated. Sartre said: Come on. This time it is a little for France.  De Gaulle laughed internally and had tears. He said: If Yvonne could see me laughing. I have been told you are the Devil.

Sartre retorted: That would make you the Good God? You see, we always end up talking about our women.

Simone de Beauvoir is far more intelligent than I: She see everything and comprehend everything. For me, I am this hard working writer, and nothing comes easily to me.

De Gaulle: Why you never married Simone?

Sartre: I proposed to her long time ago but she didn’t care for marriage. It is better that way: I wouldn’t have been that prolific in my writing. I wonder what I would have done if I had kids.

De Gaulle: I couldn’t imagine you having children. It is like Flaubert, Stendhal, Balzac, Chateaubriand… You writers are like religious clerics, you live an apostolic style, churning out book after book

Sartre: Apparently I have a daughter.

De Gaulle: That is refreshing to know and I’m glad for you. You can consider yourself among the normal people after all.

De Gaulle was feeling slightly tipsy after two shots, even though Sartre had already emptied half the bottle. He said:

A person is but two dates: When he is born and the other date is inscribed without his consent. Do you believe in the role of the individual?

Sartre: Yes, I do. A game of dupes.

De Gaulle: You wouldn’t have tackled all these problems if you didn’t believe in the individual. Otherwise, you would have behaved as a fascist or a true Communist who care only for the masses.

De Gaulle resumed: If I couldn’t write and talk and converse, I would have let go of all these struggles for power. Reasonably, you should not have kept any friend siding with him, but you have been the conscious of Europe for many decades.  Simply, save the grain. Avoid inciting or fomenting further useless catastrophes and killing.

Sartre didn’t regret what he wrote: It was too late to back track and regurgitate many of the non-sense that circumstances cornered him into taking dubious positions.

What Sartre was convinced of was that the western societies will tremble from the mass uprising of the third world for all the damages and plunders they effected upon these people. The Western nations will have to pay dearly, but at the end the reparation will be in blood.

Note 1: Andre Malraux also had a final conversation with de Gaulle and published “Les chenes qu’on abat” in 1971 (after de gaulle passed away). Malraux is to have commented “After Auschwitz, all tragedies are insignificant”. If Malraux lived long enough he would have witnessed the genocides in Cambodia by the Red Khmer, Rwanda, Congo, kid soldiers, food embargo on Iraq. De Gaulle considered Mao of China as the biggest criminal in history who let millions of his people die of hunger.

Note 2: De Gaulle wanted to visit Ireland because his grandmother was Irish. He insisted on visiting Derrynane to pay a tribute to Daniel O’Connell who joined the Irish brigade during the French revolution. Daniel returned to Ireland totally disgusted with the excesses committed by the revolution and preferred exile to joining confrontations with the British in Ireland.

Note 3: During the conversation, de Gaulle reminisced of his stay in Lebanon in the 30’s and said that the girls in Lebanon were more beautiful than anywhere else. (Currently, it is Brazil ranked #1 for beautiful women. Probably, the beautiful girls of Lebanon had immigrated to Brazil since then)


A Nurse Asked Dying Patients What They Regret.

These 5 Things Topped The List.

This was originally written by Bonnie Ware, a nurse who made it a practice to ask her patients — before they die — of their regrets.

She posted the top five responses on her website. The post is no longer up, but Ware’s message, and the messages of her patients, are timeless.

For many years I worked in palliative care.

My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.

People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth.

Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance.

Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them. (When the rage dissipate, we die)

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled.

Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way.

From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

(Many live Not knowing what were their dreams: they forgot what they dreamed when a kid)

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship.

Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners.

All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence. (The question remains: How many choices they had?)

By simplifying your lifestyle (sobriety attitude) and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do.

And by creating more space in your life (actually more quality time to dream), you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others.

As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming.

Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level.

Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

(Many lack verbal intelligence to express their confused feelings)

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down.

Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years.

There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away.

People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them.

They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love.

Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end.

That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. (A new invented choice in this century)

They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called “comfort” of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives.

Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness




November 2015

Blog Stats

  • 1,516,553 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by

Join 822 other subscribers
%d bloggers like this: