Duration - Euglena Clock

Duration is a pseudo-utilitarian object, inviting the viewer to broaden their perspective of time as an absolute and call attention to thought regarding the time scale of other life forms in which we stem from. The object includes the single cellular organism Euglena, who has the biological ability to follow light. The coupling of the sundial aesthetic and function with the solar energy system create a direct allegory to the biological properties of the Euglena. Hence, the object is self sustainable and functions similarly to living matter. It lives outside during the day creating shapes and patterns of Euglena conglomerations over time, visible to the naked eye through the green color. The design invites the viewer to observe the behavior of the Euglena through the front camera and an embedded microscopic lens. The top of the sundial is designed with miniature solar cells that grab the energy and store it in the object to light up at night, keeping the living organisms in good condition and highlighting notions of technology and nature in semiosis. Through a microscopic lens imbedded in the object, the user can insert and fit his smartphone to observe the behavior and movement of the Euglena using the front camera of the device and document or share it.

Diagrams for making / Design Process

This object is in fact about duration, it must show some sort of absurdity in its essence at the instance it is perceived and presented as such. We are aiming in the design of this object to convert an existing form, conventionally associated with time to an object that responds to the absent and the paradoxical. We are adopting a familiar form and aesthetic of a traditional sundial. It is precisely the conscious distance that the object maintains from its precursors that can become a subtle signal for paradox. The object also pushes the standards to the boundaries of the possible by the insertion of living matter into it. A self-contained object that makes things inclusive rather than exclusive, generate energy, light and space. When you look at this object you seem to be looking at the bigger picture. We are attempting to anticipate the object’s possible impact on the atmosphere and how it will be to live with and around it. It is a balance between nature and technology. It tells time through life and central to the object’s life is a single cellular organism: Euglena.

The use of Euglena as agents in this piece takes a scientific as well as metaphorical level. The Euglena function as both animals and plants, they eat food and go through photosynthesis depending on the conditions they are in. Much of the Earth’s outer geological formations are due to cyanobacteria such as Euglena, and it is interesting to contemplate the range in which these bacteria have been influential to our existence. We are talking about scale, which is an important factor for designers to get familiar with as we will increasingly deal with organic and living materials. As before the cyanobacteria where responsible for a majority of the Earth’s formation, in modern times humans have taken over that task. This juxtaposition is communicated through the use of the sundial as a representation of the solar system as a chosen time factor, in conjunction with the Euglena escaping this light - rejecting this notion. As the Euglena have their own perception of time which is highlighted by the environment designed for them in the object, we are encouraged to have empathy for a different life form, a different scale.

When operating as autotrophs the Euglena use their chloroplasts to produce sugar by photosynthesis, which gives them the green color. They mainly live in ponds and have the ability to swim in aquatic environments. Their mobility is insured by their large flagellum. These unicellular organisms contain a sensor or “eyespot” that filters sunlight and allows them to swim toward the area that enhances their photosynthesis. Although we are very different from these animals, our genetic code is not all thatdifferent. By observing them we are reminded of this humbling thought, which hopefully encourages empathy in the viewer. As organisms that go through photosynthesis they put forward the idea of a self-contained living ‘thing’ that blends with its environment and responds to the cycle of life. The object lives outside during the ‘day’ creating shapes and patterns of Euglena conglomerations over time, visible to the naked eye through the green color. The coupling of the sundial aesthetic and function with the solar energy system create an interesting and direct allegory to the nature of the Euglena. It functions similar to the living matter.

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Design Process

In order to test our hypothesis of the Euglena visually moving in our specific context, we had to conduct a series of lab experiments. It is clear that Euglena follows light, but this varies a lot depending on external conditions. They thrive in temperatures between 18-22 degrees Celsius, and their time cycle varies a lot. They precisely gate gene expression and metabolic activities over a 24-hour period, however their cell cycle ranges vastly from ten hours to ten years depending on the specific species. Following a protocol, we where able to test in which light and under which conditions they would move.2 Euglena has the ability to travel very fast; relatively they are able to swim as fast as a Boing Jet plane. Through a microscopic lens imbedded in the object, the user can insert and fit his smartphone to observe the behavior and movement of the Euglena using the front camera of the device and document or share it.

The 12 miniature solar cells grab the energy from the sun and store it into lithium ion rechargeable batteries to use it during nighttime. The circuit enables the powering of the light feature and therefor lights up softly during the night to keep the Euglena happy and well. Nature and technology are in osmosis and live in this spatiotemporal piece, putting forward notions of time-space relativity by creating a self- sustainable timepiece. The technical aspects where designed to be subtle, shining through the translucent Plexiglass they evidently demonstrate their purpose without distraction. The circuits all needed to be as small as possible and neatly arranged as they are part of the aesthetic, communicating the ways in which the Euglena live in symbiosis with technology in this particular piece. Through our experiments, we where able to collect around 0.1 volts/hour of direct sunlight. However, this number would fluctuate quite dramatically depending on the specific conditions. The circuit was prototyped on a breadboard with a bigger solar panel, and then transferred to the miniature solar panels. The decision to put them on the axis of the sundial was both practical as well as aesthetic, accentuating the sun as a source of energy.

project in collaboration with Fabiola Einhorn

this project was conceived and documented at Genspace, Brooklyn.

special thanks to Nurit Bar-Shai and Oliver Medvedik