Thursday Salute to Originals: Living Lighting

As designers, we’re constantly looking for new ways to revamp and advance our creations. Sometimes that means implementing a new material or new technology. But sometimes, the key to advancing a design is pure science.

It’s no secret that light comes from a number of sources that use both natural and artificial processes in order to emit illumination (think sun, fire, light bulbs, solar power, etc.). And when it comes to lighting design in particular, it’s pretty typical to use an electrical plug and outlet to power the fixture. But what about some of the illumination processes that we aren’t so familiar with? What about powering lighting with living organisms?

underwater image of jellyfishes

Bioluminescence is the emission of light from living organisms. Occurring in a number of different creatures (including things like marine life, fireflies, fungi, and other microorganisms), a chemical reaction occurs within the organism causing a burst of energy which is released in the form of light.

As crazy/cool as that concept sounds, it’s no wonder designers have become interested in this concept and tried to harness the powers of light emitted by living organisms.  Teresa Van Dongen, a designer based out of Amsterdam with a background in both design and biology, designed a light fixture called Ambio where she experimented with bioluminescent algae and photobacterium as the sole source of illumination for her lamp.

Ambio, bacterial lamp by Teresa van Dongen from Teresa van Dongen on Vimeo.

But her design wasn’t as simple as putting organisms into a glass container and asking them to illuminate. As Van Dongen explains,  when the light fixture remained static, no light was emitted from the different types of bioluminescent bacteria contained within the lamp. In order for the fixture to consistently emit light, the fixture had to be in motion for the artificial seawater and bacteria to mix, creating the electrical discharge.


Though the bioluminescent bacteria can only survive a few days within the lamp, we’re glad it did not discourage Van Dongen  from figuring out a way harness living lighting and to achieve her design intent. So we happily shine the light onto this week’s Thursday Salute, as once again science and art combine forces to create new and innovative lighting design!

Credits: Wired, Teresa Van Dongen