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‘TeamBIOM_Lab’ Team members from left to right: Leonardo Tellez Gonzalez (MITACS Intern), Dominico IV Obmerga (Undergraduate research assistant), Magdiel Antonio Ramos (MITACS Intern), Mercedes Garcia-Holguera (Assistant Professor, Faculty of Architecture), Jessica Piper (Research Assistant), Vyas Gopal (Undergraduate Research Assistant)

‘TeamBIOM_Lab’ team members from left to right: Leonardo Tellez Gonzalez (MITACS Intern), Dominico IV Obmerga (Undergraduate research assistant), Magdiel Antonio Ramos (MITACS Intern), Mercedes Garcia-Holguera (Assistant Professor, Faculty of Architecture), Jessica Piper (Research Assistant), Vyas Gopal (Undergraduate Research Assistant).

Winnipeg Free Press: U of M lab combines research and art in illuminating exhibition that’s bubbling with creativity

September 22, 2022 — 

As the Winnipeg Free Press reports on Thursday, Sept. 22:

Saturday night is part exhibition and part experiment for Mercedes Garcia-Holguera and her BIOM_Lab research team.

During this year’s Nuit Blanche festivities, the assistant professor of architecture at the University of Manitoba is hoping to illuminate the public on the virtues of lab-grown building materials.

“Our community will get to see it and get to touch it and give us feedback,” Garcia-Holguera says. “Our final goal is to have this material integrated within our lives in some way, within our buildings, so for sure, we need to let people (interact with) it.”

BIOM_Lab is a new research laboratory at the U of M dedicated to exploring the possibilities of biomaterials within design. So far, Garcia-Holguera has been working with mycelium — the root system of fungi, which can be used as insulation — and bacterial cellulose, a leather-like material made from the protective membrane that grows in kombucha.

She and her team have used the latter to create more than 50 otherworldly lamps that will be installed along the walking paths at Stephen Juba Park. Called Elucida, it’s an installation that brings new meaning to the culture in Culture Days (which encompasses Nuit Blanche and runs until Oct. 16).

Kombucha is a bubbly tea drink that creates a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, known as a scoby, during the fermentation process. In the BIOM_Lab, researchers have been cultivating and drying scobies to test their usefulness as ropes, fabrics and other design elements. The living material can be dyed like a textile and affixed to other objects or repaired using only water.

The lamps in Elucida are made of bacterial cellulose shades that have been stretched over plywood frames and tinted shades of pink, orange, red and yellow. Visitors are encouraged to violate the taboo of most art exhibits by touching the lamps; they can then report their reactions to the research team onsite.

While biomaterials might seem like the stuff of sci-fi, Garcia-Holguera says the field has real-world potential as a sustainable, accessible way to build everything from homes to furniture to clothing.

“In our province, think about these isolated northern communities and the costs of shipping materials,” she says. “If instead, you can grow those materials in (the) community and you can have those communities take control of their material resources, I think that can make a difference.”

Read the full Free Press story here.

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