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Bioluminescent bacteria light up Melbourne Design Week

Original article published on Newsroom

Melbourne Design Week 2024 has been lit up in bacterial lights as the University of Melbourne plays host to Living Light Experiment. These bioluminescent bacteria will create a stunning sensory experience for visitors at a free public exhibition inside the Melbourne Connect Science Gallery.

Biomedical Engineer Dr Matt Faria has grown the bioluminescent bacteria in University of Melbourne labs and worked with a range of artists to use the tiny shining bacteria to create the exhibition.

“These bacteria are our ‘performers’ – they’re a living system whose light can and will change depending on where they are in their lifecycle,” Dr Faria said. “Because the bacteria are constantly growing and changing, no single visit to Living Light Experiment will be exactly the same.”

Surrounded by gentle sounds and darkness, the path through the installation is lit solely by the ethereal glow of glass vessels shining with bioluminescent bacteria. This unusual natural phenomenon occurs spontaneously across beaches in northern Australia's warmer waters and is most famously seen during pitch-black summer evenings at Jervis Bay.

“Bioluminescent bacteria are light-producing bacteria that often live in symbiosis with marine animals. They provide the bacteria with a safe home and in exchange they use the light produced by the bacteria for camouflage,” Dr Faria said.

Dr Matt Faria 2

As part of the artwork, Dr Faria and his collaborators will survey visitors on their experience of the installation to better understand how people define beauty.

“We hope to use visitor’s survey responses to drive future projects into the study of light and beauty – for example, changing the colour or brightness of the bacteria based on visitor feedback,” Dr Faria said.

Living Light Experiment is part of the University’s contribution to Melbourne Design Week 2024, where students and academics use their skills to drive positive change, reimagine existing systems and offer innovative solutions to pressing global change.

Melbourne Design Week 2024 commences 23 May and will focus on sustainability, ethics and technology, showcasing the latest in design thinking and creation. Due to popular demand, new sessions have been added to Living Light Experiment.

You can explore the University of Melbourne’s complete program at Melbourne School of Design and Melbourne Connect. Melbourne Design Week and the Victoria design program are initiative of the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria.