Imperial College London

Dr Marin Sawa

Faculty of Natural SciencesDepartment of Life Sciences

Research Associate







704Sir Ernst Chain BuildingSouth Kensington Campus





I joined the laboratory of Prof. Klaus Hellgardt in the Chemical Engineering Department in 2017 as a full-time postdoctoral researcher.

I am a biodesigner investigating the ecological intersection between design and biotechnology. 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). In my post-doc, continued at Imperial, I have set out to test a number of areas of improvement for the paper BPV prototype, testing new cyanobacterial species in particular. My biodesign approach is that the biology holds the key to a significant increase in both power output and longevity whilst minimising the cost and complexity. Most recently, I have developed entrepreneurial understanding of this biological battery technology and won EPSRC IAA funding and industry partnership with the aim to demonstrate feasibility in the area of green electronics and printed electronics.

Investigating the intersection of design with algal biotechnology, I hold a PhD in biodesign (2016), in addition to MA in design and BA (Hons) in Architecture and RIBA part 1

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

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

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

More Publications