Vivid Sydney gets Living Lights with neon algae

[Australia] If you think algae is slimy, green and, well, boring — think again. The humble microorganism has been given a neon makeover — and, from tonight, is taking centre stage at Vivid Sydney as part of the first living exhibit in the festival’s 10-year history.

University of Technology (UTS) Sydney professor of marine biology Peter Ralph said the aim was to start a conversation about the benefits of algae.

He said it could solve some of the most pressing environmental problems.

“We’re going to show all of the families, all of the people visiting Vivid how different algae can be,” he said.

Professor Ralph hopes to show people coming to Vivid what algae can do

“We want to explore why algae hasn’t been used for more products in more industries.”

Light the way

The display, called Living Lights, includes green, bronze and red algae that has been carefully decanted into plastic tubes.

Lights have been placed underneath, and visitors can control their colour and intensity by waving their hands inside a special booth called “The Nucleus”.

The algae lights with Sydney’s CBD in the background

Professor Ralph said the four-metre wide display would produce more oxygen during the festival than the average suburban park does in a year.

And he said there’s huge potential to use algae to soak up carbon emissions and transform industry.

UTS PhD candidate Shawn Price is working to develop a biodegradable plastic using algae, which he hopes to make a reality in the next three years.

“Inside algae cells there are a whole range of molecules,” he said.

“And there are special molecules called polymers that are very, very useful for plastic products.

“And so what I’m trying to do is take these naturally occurring biopolymers and turn them into plastic products that biodegrade in the environment.”

UTS PhD candidate Shawn Price looking at some algae

Mr Price said the plastic resin he was designing could degrade within a month, meaning everyday items such as milk bottles could one day be made from the plastic.

Algae for all

Across the laboratory, honours student Erica Leal is working to make an algae feed for oysters that could boost production and slash costs.

She said if successful her brew could enable oysters to be grown inland.

Algae has a wide range of potential uses

“There’s a vast array of things which we can do with algae which are environmentally friendly and also good for us,” she said.

The NSW Minister for Tourism and Major Events Adam Marshall said it was is an opportunity to rethink algae.

“Whenever people say ‘algae’ in our part of the world they often think of blue-green algae and the fact it shuts down water supplies or recreational lakes and waterways,” he said.

Erica Leal, Honours student at UTS, is looking into algae for oyster growth

“This has the potential to turn that around and be applied in a very positive sense, as a food stuff or as a supplement for some of our very strong agricultural areas.”

And as night falls and lights bathe Sydney in a kaleidoscope of colour as part of Vivid, Professor Ralph urged business to consider the abundant, natural resources available here.

“Australia has got heaps of sunlight,” he said.

“So there’s lots of opportunities for this type of production where you exploit what the sun’s doing to grow products for us.”

The Vivid Sydney Festival will set the city aglow for three weeks.


View original article at: Vivid Sydney gets Living Lights with neon algae

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