Imperial College London

Dr Marin Sawa

Faculty of Natural SciencesDepartment of Life Sciences

Visiting Researcher Association







704Sir Ernst Chain BuildingSouth Kensington Campus





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 Prof. Peter Nixon Group and hold a Newcastle University Academic Track Fellow position at Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment at School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, Newcastle University (2021-). 

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 from Textile Futures (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.

Selected Publications

Journal Articles

Sawa M, Fantuzzi A, Bombelli P, et al., 2017, Electricity generation from digitally printed cyanobacteria, Nature Communications, Vol:8, ISSN:2041-1723, Pages:1-10

Sawa M, 2016, The laboratory life of a designer at the intersection with algal biotechnology, Arq-architectural Research Quarterly, Vol:20, ISSN:1359-1355, Pages:65-72


Sawa M, 2017, Algaerium Bioprinter and Algae Printing, Hatje Cantz, ISBN:978-3-7757-4336-5

Sawa M, 2017, Algae Printing and Algaerium Bioprinter, Promopress, ISBN:9788416504657

Sawa M, 2014, Algaerium and Marin Sawa interview in 'Bio Design Nature, Science, Creativity', Thames and Hudson, ISBN:9780500291504


Sawa M, Development of Solar Biobattery for use in printed electronics, Materials Research Society (MRS) Fall Meeting; Symposium session SB03:‘Smart materials, devices and systems for interface with plants and microorganisms’

Sawa M, Solar Biobattery

Sawa M, Fantuzzi A, Nixon P, et al., Development of printed solar biobattery for use in bioelectronics, Arm Summit 2018, Arm

Sawa M, Solar Biobattery: Thin-film Biophotovoltaic Technology - from Research to Industry Collaboration, 8th European Algae Industry Summit

Sawa M, Algaerium Bioprinter and Algae Printing, STRATS Prize Talks

Sawa M, An ecosophical intersection of design and algal biotechnology:Algaerium Bioprinter and Algae Printing, Shaping the Future 2017

More Publications