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Summer What Ifs….

30 Jul, 2010
Astronomical Bodies

The apron from Astronomical Bodies that collects and captures phosphate from urine

Since February, the What If… display in the windows of the Wellcome Trust building has been capturing the imagination of passers-by in Euston.

The exhibit is being refreshed today, with four of the six projects being replaced by new ones. As before, students, graduates and staff from the Design Interactions department at the Royal College of Art have designed the projects.

The new additions look at subjects as diverse as genetic engineering, designing the fantastic, anthropomorphic technology design and seeding life on other planetary bodies.

Acoustic Botany by David Benqué examines the concepts of genetic engineering and synthetic biology and looks at the role they could play in the entertainment of the future.

The ‘genetically engineered sound garden’ is a controlled ecosystem of plants and insects that interact to perform a new type of music. The sound garden includes singing flowers, trees with nuts containing resonating strings, and parasitic galls filled with gas that push sound through the stomata of the host plant. This project was developed with help from Christina Agapakis of Harvard University, and Kirsten Jensen and James Chapell from the Macromolecular Structure and Function Research Group at Imperial College London.

Fantastics by Andrew Friend expands on the thrilling idea of experiencing the fantastic, and delves into ways to achieve it.

Acoustic Botany

Singing flower from Acoustic Botany. Only small flowers can grow, because most of the plant’s energy is diverted into the parasite

The project looks at specific extraordinary experiences, and seeks to make them a reality. One device increases the user’s probability of being struck by lightning, and transfers the lightning’s energy into heat that will give them a permanent brand. Another makes the user the focus point for ‘invisible’ energy, by placing them in the centre of a parabolic dish that they wear to areas with high levels of electrical or radio activity.

The Attenborough Design Group by James Chambers is a fictional organisation named after the naturalist Sir David Attenborough, as it gives their products anthropomorphic behaviours that endear them to their owners and give them a competitive advantage over rival products. Rather than looking to the future, this project proposes an alternative history where the group developed products in the late 20th century as new technologies emerged.

The Gesundheit Radio (1972) was designed to protect itself from the damaging buildup of dust. It employs a sneeze mechanism, made with a bellows and two ‘nostrils’, to force dust out of its casing every six months, although it can also be activated by a convenient button.

There is also Floppy Legs, a floppy disk drive from the 1980’s that stands up on legs to protect itself when it senses liquid (video viewable here), and the AntiTouch Lamp, which sways away when it senses that you are too close to its bulb (video here).

Astronomical Bodies by Michael Burton (who also provided The Race to What If…) explores the idea that life on Earth may have sprung from chemical elements brought by meteorites. As astrobiological products, humans could continue the colonisation of space in a similar way.

The project proposes collecting phosphorous, a key element in building life, from urine and using it to form artificial meteorites. These could then be sent to other habitable places, such as Jupiter’s moon Europa, where they may continue the propagation of life. The idea was produced in collaboration with Dr. Terence Kee and his team at the University of Leeds.

These new projects, along with some previous ones, are now on display at the Wellcome Trust buildings on Euston Road. The exhibit will be in place until the end of the year, with a further refresh planned for October.

Ailbhe Goodbody

Ailbhe Goodbody is undertaking a work experience placement at the Wellcome Trust.

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