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Quantworm Mine

Biodesign Challenge 2017 First Prize
research / biodesign / speculative / rethinking systems / animation

In collaboration with Liv Bargman

Our project proposes a nanotech wormery and a new sustainable system on former coal mining sites in South Wales, through designing a fictional company called Quantworm Industries.

 

The company utilises the earthworm’s natural ability to both bio-remediate contaminated soil and bio-synthesise nanoparticles called quantum dots (QDs) from heavy metals. QDs that are extracted from these worms are used to create spray-on photovoltaic cells that are installed on site as banners and flags. The clean power generated by the flags is fed back to the surrounding areas, while the majority of the produced QDs are sold as ‘green’ alternatives to various industries. The coal miner becomes the worm miner, and the process reverses the environmental damage of the previous mine

Our role here as designers was to bring innovative scientific research into a real world context and envision its potential applications in tackling the effects of the Anthropocene and its impact on those involved. Through props, film and images, we explored the new role of the miner in this new industry. 

Our starting point was our desire to explore the human effects and relationships with soil and our horror at its degradation. We felt that soil health is often overlooked in green design/solutions even though it is essential for all aspects of human civilisation. Our visit to the Big Pit, a disused coal mine, was a stark reminder of its effects on its environment but the positive social impact that the working mine industry has. The paper Biosynthesis of luminescent quantum dots in an earthworm (2012) by Professor Mark Green and his colleagues at King’s College, gave us an idea to look for the help of our familiar garden friend to both improve the soil and create a new sustainable industry for those communities. Efficient Spray-Coated Colloidal Quantum Dot Solar Cells (Kramer 2014) inspired us to consider potential green energy applications of these re-appropriated heavy metals . 

 

We believe we address four specific issues: soil contamination, finding green alternatives to QD synthesis, dirty energy, and the socio-economic and cultural effects of the closing of the coal mine on communities. 

Our soils have undergone huge changes due to the human mining of resources. The decline of this industry in the UK, and Wales in particular, has left behind a legacy of toxic soil contaminated by deposited heavy metals. In the US, the Land Revenue estimates there are 500,000 abandoned mines. The Environment Agency states that “Abandoned mines are one of the most significant pollution threats in Britain… We have found many significant breaches of quality guidelines for cadmium, lead, copper, zinc and arsenic”. Earthworms are natural remediators of the soil, and have been used in a number of industrial projects for on site soil cleaning. Creating quantum dots from these heavy metals takes them out of our environment and into something beneficial.
 

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