Published by Anne-Florence Neveu at 2021-01-11 13:35

Teresa van Dongen is our new artist in residence

Crossing Parallels is embarking on a new journey with a familiar face! Teresa van Dongen is collaborating with the research group of Duncan McMillan. Together, they will apply his discovery on the project 'Solar Fruit': the first organically constructed solar panel made from fruit waste.

Living encounters

Back in 2014, Teresa van Dongen developed her graduation project Ambio with two Life Science and Technology students at TU Delft. Ambio is a bacterial light, made with specifically selected photobacterium species isolated from octopi that require movement and oxygen to emit light. This project paved the way for her further explorations with living materials. Since then, she has honed her ability to collaborate with luminescent bacteria in numerous intimate installations such as Mud Well and Electric Life.

Now an acclaimed designer, she is returning to TU Delft's labs for a new project. This time she is collaborating with the team of Duncan McMillan, a Professor in enzymology who specialises in membrane bioenergetics. Together they will create the world-first application of a solar panel made from fruit waste. This new collaboration between Teresa van Dongen and TU Delft started with a lucky coincidence. Independently, both Teresa and TU Delft were looking to match recent scientific discoveries with creative business applications. By working with technology that so far only exists in labs, Teresa's goal was to transform a scientific discovery into an end product, making it accessible to the public. This process of catalysing cutting edge science into a usable product is arduous, often taking several years. Even then, only a tiny portion of scientific discoveries find practical applications and become available to the general public. As a research university, TU Delft develops several hundred patents every year and Duncan McMillan's promising discovery was a perfect match for the development of new and impactful technology.

Solar Fruit

Together, Teresa and Duncan will create the world's first application of an organically constructed solar panel using enzymes extracted from papaya and kiwi fruit waste. This research constitutes a first step toward the next generation of solar panels, a crucial technology in the field of renewable energy. Currently, solar energy still relies on the extraction of rare metals and the use of dangerous chemical products in its manufacturing process. These cannot always be recycled at the end of the life cycle of the solar panels. Thus, they contribute to land pollution and prevent solar energy from being completely renewable. By using professor McMillan discovery and extracting kiwi enzymes to create a photoreceptive layer, the amount of energy necessary for the creation of solar panels is greatly reduced.

Teresa van Dongen


Teresa van Dongen is an Amsterdam based designer whose current research stretches the limits of living materials to translate her deep-rooted fascination of nature and interactions into practical yet vulnerable design products and installations. She holds a bachelor in biology and graduated from the Design Academy in Eindhoven in 2014. Since graduating, she had received several design awards including the Young Talents awards at the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven in 2015. Her work has also been supported by the Keep An Eye grant in 2016.

Her earlier research explored the potential of micro-organism to produce electricity or light for domestic usage. By working with bacteria and other living micro-organisms that produce photons or electrons as waste products as a part of their life cycle, she opens up the possibility of tapping into yet unused and renewable energy sources, highlighting the immense reservoir of potential existing in the natural world.