I joined Imperial College first as a Designer in Residence in the Photosynthesis Research Lab, Department of Life Sciences (2012-2015), Visiting Researcher (2016), full-time Postdoctoral Research Associate at Departments of Chemical Engineering and Life Sciences (2017-2019). Currently Visiting Researcher in the Prof. Peter Nixon Group and holds a Visiting Fellow position at the Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment at the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, University of Newcastle.
I studied architecture at the Architectural Association School of Architecture (BA, AA Intermediate, RIBA Part1 in 2002; Diploma School in 2006) and practiced architecture and design in offices (Kengo Kuma and Associates, Tokyo) in between, and developed my interests in materials through postgraduate research, obtaining a MA (Distinction) in Design (2010) and PhD (2016) from Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, University of Arts London.
Biodesign is an emerging field not only in arts and design but increasingly in sciences, that exploits living organisms and living matter in design strategies often for ecological solutions (Sawa 2010, 2012; Myers 2012). I have contributed to this new field with my vision to domesticate biotechnology in design installations ‘Algaerium’ (2010) and ‘Algaerium Bioprinter’ (2013) and have demonstrated a co-inventor role of designer in scientific research through laboratory-based collaborative practice (Sawa 2016, Sawa et al. 2017).
My focus has been on generating new applications of photosynthetic microorganisms, algae and cyanobacteria, in the areas of food, energy and air purification – the main pillars of life. These organisms play as an important role in removing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen as plants, but have faced many bottlenecks in scale-up due to cost-intensive bioprocesses. In my PhD, I demonstrated a new concept of designing with algal cells, using a CAD-based digital printing method for controlled and creative cell deposition. Enabled by research collaboration with Imperial College London, I developed this method to a scalable, energy efficient bioprocess in the context of algal biotechnology and invented a paper-based biofilm bioreactor system, with ease to harvest electrons, biomass and cells. Notable achievements of my design-led scientific research include leading effective collaboration and the co-invention of a biodegradable thin-film biophotovoltaic (BPV) device, possibly the world’s first of its kind, published in Nature Communications (Sawa et al. 2017). I am interested in the ecological intersection between design and biotechnology.