Computational Arts

Session 6: Insights into the Gut Biome, Modern Love Tales and Crystals

We started the session by going over Dianne’s homework:

  1. Her top ten insights into the gut biome
  2. Can she source Agar in large quantities?
  3. What existing microscopy equipment can she get access to at Goldsmiths?

She supplied the following insights:

  1. “Recent studies demonstrate that gut microbes directly alter neurotransmitter levels, which may enable them to communicate with neurons.”
  2. Scientists have observes that the gut microbiota interact with the central nervous system…mental health and  even neurological development might be shaped by the composition and behaviour of these bacteria.
  3. The human gut microbiome is made up of organisms belonging to over 30 different genera and as many as 500 separate bacterial species or phenotypes, most being from the Firmicutes and the Bacteroides.
  4. Bacteria are our ancestors, “every living thing that exists now, or has ever lived is bacterial.”
  5. The human is a walking ecosystem.
  6. There are ten times as many bacterial cells as human cells in the body.
  7. It is impossible to study the entire gut microbiome as when extracted from the body as lot of the bacterial species die.
  8. 95% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the digestive tract.
  9. Fecal transplantation is being researched and developed to treat disease and obesity etc.
  10. Bacteria invented all the basic metabolic processes, including photosynthesis and chemical conversion that every other life form remains utterly dependent on.
  11. The wide adoption of antibiotics, rigorous hygiene and processed diets id thought to have cut down the genetic diversity of micro biomes in the developed world.

We then moved on to discussing how much agar she could source. After some research she realised that it’s not possible to use agar if you want to do microscopy – as you need to use a slide in order for that to work – and under-light the sample.

I asked what the speed/lifespan was normally – she’s done previous experiments which had a lifespan of 24/48 hours, especially if she avoids copper lined dishes, which is a natural anti-bacterial.

The conversation then moved onto organ on a chip discussions – could she find a gut on a chip? She referenced the Wyss Institute at Havard. I said it reminded me of Tobie Kerridge’s BioJewellery project.

We discussed her sourcing glassware to contain her gut biome – she suggested speaking to the BioHackingLab to find where they source from – I also suggested speaking to her mum (who is a micro-biologist) to find out the best places to collaborate with in London – there must be people in London working on gut biome / brain interaction. We did a quick search on the Goldsmiths site via Google, which yielded some promising results.

Finally she raised concerns that there isn’t enough computing in her project – I said to keep it in mind, but there is plenty of work around biological simulation on computers – from Conway’s Game of Life to more recent Microbiome Simulations.

I set the following homework:

  1. Ask mum best place in London for research
  2. Biohacking lab, can they help with construction
  3. Make contact with the best place – what would they advise
  4. Plan exhibition more – micro / macro / explanation
  5. Speak to the Wellcome trust
  6. Get glassware catalogues from mum – or the websites for gear
  7. Speak to William Latham at Goldsmiths
  8. Speak to other researchers at Goldsmiths
  9. Research biome simulation

Next it was Julianne’s turn. Her homework from the last session was as follows:

  1. What is the screen resolution for your projection? So we can think about text scale and spacing.
  2. Investigate voice synthesis
  3. Think about the flower metaphor for conversations – beautiful at first, but terrifying conversations
  4. Interface – draw it out create a stop motion animation
  5. Think about how to campaign for more content

Since our last session she created a Tumblr for the project, as well as an email address for submissions. I advised her to set up a Twitter account in addition. She’s going to create a poster for the project as soon as everything is in place – I emphasised how important it was to keep up the momentum on the project. She doesn’t know the screen resolution of her projection as yet, I advised her to talk to the technical team at Goldsmiths to find out which projector she’s likely to be able to access – it’s essential to allow her to think about her text resolution which will impact readability dramatically.

Julianne shared Romantimatic, an app that reminds you to be romantic, we then moved on to a discussion about using voice synthesis to speak the content that she is collecting – she said she’s not opposed to it, just unsure of how to implement – I demonstrated the voice synthesiser in OSX, and how to get it to read any piece of text.

We then moved on to a discussion about the flower metaphor – she thought about it but was more envisioning a bubble effect, with multiple camera angles and using the flower idea for connections between conversations. She’s keen not to create just a long chain of conversations.

I shared ofxBox2D for openFrameworks by Todd Vanderlin, a 2D Newtonian physics simulator:

I showed, a repository of addons for openFrameworks. Together we picked out several addons that might be useful for her project:

I said the most important thing was to get to a technically complete prototype as soon as possible – and to document those early prototypes, but the most important thing being the creation of a paper prototype. I advised her to sketch it out as soon as possible – using Keynote from Apple with simple stop motion animation via photographs.

I set the following homework:

  1. Set up a Twitter account for the project
  2. Keep pushing on gathering content
  3. Speak to the technical support team about likely projector for her final show
  4. Make video/static documentation of code as it is
  5. Draw out the interface as she sees it – paper prototype it!

The last person in the session was Jayson, who had the following homework:

  1. Watch Silent Running
  2. What is the personal aspect of this installation? How is it unique to you? Why could have it only have been made by you?
  3. Why does it exist?

Unfortunately, he hadn’t managed to watch Silent Running, so we moved on to the personal aspect of the work. He suggested having a screen to explain the piece – I suggested just making a normal poster so that he could concentrate his setup time on the installation itself. We talked about making crystal growth interactive, using electricity, hydrochloric acid and tin, which can be done in real time:

Jayson felt it didn’t look enough like what people think of as a crystal, so we searched for other crystal growing methods. He shared an aluminium sulphate crystal that he had already grown at home.




I suggested trying to find a mineralogist, gemologist or chemist. We found Mike Rumsey at the Natural History Museum. Jayson said that he’s going to experiment with a moving microscope that he’s found at Goldsmiths Digital Fabrication lab.

We moved on to a discussion of computation and how it relates to this project – I thought simulating crystal growth digitally was an interesting area – how does this relate to Cybernetics? What problems could be solved by this simulation? Computing the shortest route in a maze? How else can they be used for computation?

We found a paper on Crystal Voronoi Diagrams, which led me to reference Scott Snibbe’s Boundary Functions installation:

I advised Jayson to speak to Theo Papatheodorou about other people working in this area at Goldsmiths, or in London. We discussed crystal formation as a kind of non conscious self organisation.

Jayson demonstrated a crystal renderer based on a shader that he found on ShaderToy, as well as an additive growth demo. We found a demonstration of a slime mold that can solve mazes:

We discussed doing a 3D print of crystal growth with a real time simulation alongside. In terms of real life activities we found a shop that could give him a crystal healing session, a spiritual shop walking tour of London and a statement from the British Museum on their crystal skull.

I set the following homework:

  1. Watch Silent Running
  2. Reach out to Mike Rumsey
  3. What computing problems can crystals solve?
  4. Speak to theo about computing people
  5. Take a crystal healing session
  6. Reach out to Andy Lomas