Fungi in Flux
Master's Thesis at the Rhode Island School of Design, 2022-23
Somerson Sustainability Innovation Grant | Mark Harrison Grant | RISD Design Research Award
Today, we produce a staggering amount of waste and the only thing it stays out of is conversation.
The world generates 2.01 billion tons of municipal solid waste annually, with at least 33 percent of that—extremely conservatively—not managed in an environmentally safe manner (World Bank). Scientists also warn that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. This includes microplastics which create additional concerns with choking hazards for marine life and entering the food and water streams consumed by humans. And as compared to other waste streams a third of food that is produced gets wasted - amounting to 1.3 billion tons.
Nature has long provided elegant solutions to resource management and waste disposal, presenting valuable lessons for addressing the issues of the material domain. A natural process that could solve our waste problems is that of mycelium, the underground network of fungi. Mycelium plays a critical role in decomposition, breaking down complex organic materials into simpler compounds used by plants and other organisms. It is made of thread-like structures called hyphae, and holds great potential for transforming waste into a resource.
Mycelium Material Experiments
To maintain optimum conditions to grow materials, I built and assembled semi-automated growth chambers to streamline the process. Cultivating mycelium objects is a multi-stage process including mold making, bio-fabrication and post-processing. A wide range of local waste streams such as coffee grounds, sawdust and paper waste were combined with mycelium strains with varying processes and conditions to get to the most effective and reproducible material solution.
Mechanical and Experiential Characterization
This part of the research aims to study the fascinating, multifaceted process of characterizing mycelium, not just from an industrial standpoint but also from an
experiential one. The complex interplay of these diverse perspectives holds the
key to unlocking the full potential of mycelium as a tangible and valuable
alternative to traditional materials.
The study starts with mechanical testing and measurements of density, strentgh,
water absorbtion as fundamental indicators of a material’s physical properties. In parallel, it is equally crucial to appreciate its experiential aspects, as these attributes often profoundly impact how the material is perceived, interacted with, and ultimately integrated into our lives.
Designing an eco-friendly system, this project sources local waste from makerspaces and eateries and combines it with fungal strains that bind the material into a structure. My formula for making biodegradable objects explores applications such as raw material bricks for prototyping, interior objects for cafes, and custom forms.
Flows and Mapping
Research and Making Workshops
The method of growing mycelium objects was tested through a series of workshops in traditional mycelium molding, comparative survey and mycelium composite prototyping.
Sol Koffler Gallery and Rhode Island Convention Center, 2023