2017-18 Faculty Seed Fund Sprouts and Shoots: Part 5

December 11, 2018

In roundtables convened in Williams Hall November 1 and 15, 2018, faculty recipients of the 2018 Research and Teaching Seed Fund awards presented first fruits of their projects to faculty, staff and students. Drawing on those presentations, this series offers a brief glimpse of the exciting new initiatives in environmental humanities being developed by Penn faculty with support from the fund.

We are currently accepting applications for 2019 Seed Funds from faculty interested in building toward new courses, creating new public engagement tools or developing innovative cross-disciplinary research projects that push the boundaries of environmental inquiry at Penn.

BIOLOGICAL DESIGN STUDIO: Culture of Food, Food Cultures

Orkan Telhan (Fine Arts, PennDesign) and Karen Hogan (CEO, Biorealize)


FNAR 264/564 Biological Design is a design studio, in which undergraduate and graduate students learn to work with microorganisms to design new products and applications that bring together scientific knowledge, humanities scholarship, and design thinking. Every year the studio focuses on a selection of topics (i.e., biomaterials, food security, environmental pollution, climate change etc.) in which students with backgrounds as diverse as Philosophy, Economy, Bioengineering, English, Product Design and Fine Arts work together to develop creative and critical responses. Students learn about synthetic biology, microbiome research portable gene sequencing and apply their knowledge in making artworks, inventing novel products or writing critical texts.

In Fall 2018, the studio was co-taught by Dr. Karen Hogan (CEO, Biorealize) and Orkan Telhan (Associate Professor of Fine Arts, School of Design). One project in the course focused on studying fermented foods with respect to environmental, ethnic and colonial histories. The students worked with portable gene sequencers funded by the PPEH seed grant. The purpose of the project was to understand the kind of organisms that live in their food and how these organisms influence our health, ethnic, social, cultural and microbial identities. The students not only researched the rich cultural histories of the food but also prepared lab reports where they discussed the biological analysis project.

The outcome of the class was presented in a public exhibition at the Esther Klein Gallery on Dec 5th, 2018. Read coverage of the event by Penn student publication 34th Street here.

A team of students from the class will participate at the Biological Design Challenge in 2019 that will take place at the Museum of Modern Art.

Biological Design Students kept a lab report which combined their expertise in working with culture food and the biological analysis methods they learned at the lab.