The algae-powered thermometer I am going to exhibit at RISD Nature Lab from August 24th onward, is the first piece I’ve ever made specifically for an exhibition. It has been quite a ride. Yet again, the process highlighted many unknowns and question marks. Some difficulties certainly stemmed from my relatively shallow experience with algae at this point, and some from material limitations. Other than that, the algae showed some unexpected reactions, which would probably be a PhD’s worth of research and experimentation.
A crisis of confidence established itself about a week ago, when even 10 algal cells would not supply enough for a low-powered device. Two weeks before the exhibition! And based on previous experiments and reasonable assumptions, 10 cells should have provided the necessary current many times over.
Then, something happened – and I am really not quite sure what, but for about a week, a single cell has now powered the thermometer happily by itself. We know that such a system has to mature for the algae to be content and vital microbial colonies to establish – the two of them together form a much more efficient system, than just algae or just bacteria by themselves. But the sudden jump in performance was quite extraordinary and unforeseeable.
The second aspect I wanted to point out with a project like this: You simply cannot do it on your own. So, as always, I extend my gratitude and appreciation to everyone who got involved and was fascinated enough by this project to part with their time and knowledge for free!
The images below show the cells that have been experimented with over the past months and a single star pupil powering the thermometer. At the exhibition this cell with get a back-up of two more cells to make up for any fluctuations in output.