PORTFOLIO | Natural Plastic
Natural Plastic: Labgrown Tortoise Shell

Unit 2: Graduation Project First Semester

The project explores a sustainable thermoplastic alternative and speculates how we would come to use this lab-grown biomaterial when it becomes cheap and widely accessible.

By placing the carapace (shell) genes of the Hawksbill turtle into a micro-organism could we grow this beautifully-spotted material for a sustainable thermoplastic?

Tortoise shell is a very unique material. It’s made out of keratin, similarly to our nails and hair, however being a thermoplastic it can be moulded when heated and will retain this shape when cooled. Its beauty and unique features made the material suitable for inlays, boxes and jewellery.

Tortoise shell was expensive, rare and highly sought after by the wealthy. This opportunity created the idea for an affordable imitation and was first succeeded by Alexander Parkes. His invention of Parkesine (Celluloid) in 1855, is one of the earliest forms of plastic made. [Hainschwang et al., 2006] [ThoughtCo., 2019]

Plastic has amazing properties but this is also the cause of its detrimental effects on the environment. Rather than implementing a new circular system, which takes time and resource, I think changing the materials in the current system should be prioritised to create a much needed and immediate impact.


"Your research is thorough and we would always rather you take risks and fail doing so than playing safe, which is why we would encourage you to 'go for gold'. That said, make sure that everything surrounding your project is really well communicated/crafted/made, as if you fail in finding the gene, (which I think you will be), that you at least can communicate the wider system, technologies and infrastructures that would need to be in place when the gene is actually found. For this reason, and to ensure that this project allows for opportunities to make, make sure that you spend as much time building these surrounding artefacts as you do researching the topic." Kieren Jones.


Project: Master's Graduation

Coaches: Kieren Jones, Maël Hénaff and Marta Giralt Dunjo

Experts: Troy Nagtigall (PhD TU/e), Anton D. Tucker (Ecologist University of Queensland) , David Clayton (Biolab Hackspace London), Shem Johnson (Biolab technician CSM) and Michael Jensen (genetic researcher)

Clients: Central Saint Martins

Year: 2019/2020

Duration: ~500 hours, 10 weeks

Individual Project

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