Interview with Marc Dusseiller from, part 2: Open sourcing with living systems

June 2, 2011

This is the second part of the interview with Marc Dusseiller. Read the first part here: On DIYbio and nanotechnology


Marc Dusseiller, photos taken from private album via F-book

I see your point, can you tell me about your own processes of work? I have in my mind the workshop “NanoŠmano” in Ljubljana. Do you use a sort of methodology from science, or you’re simply intuitive?

MD: OK, after 2 years of working on the hackteria framework and ideas, we came to some conclusions. On one hand there is the format of workshops, that means pre-developed concepts that are worth to share and help other artists/hackers/scientists to get introduced into the methodology in a few days. So, doing workshops was key the last years, at many festivals and local hacker/artists communities.

At the same time, we are still seeking for a format to publish instructions and other documentation. The website is ok, and the wiki in the back has already a lot of information, which is widely used by a growing group of people. At the same time, we also worked on establishing a self-organized network of people sharing the same enthusiasm to promote the knowledge and approaches of the hackteria network.


Photo from HAIP workshop, (cc)

On the other hand, we also figured out that for the development of new ideas and projects, intensive phases of experimentation, discussions and social activity plays a key role. So, we organized labs, with invited artists/hackers/scientist to work on new ideas, and having enough time to develop DIY methodologies to work with topics from biology, nanotechnology and environment. These so called HackteriaLabs have been hold in Zurich and also in Slovenia, focusing in specific topics. Another one will be held this summer in Switzerland.


Cutting tape for DIY microfluidics
Photo by Marc Dusseiller (cc) taken from flickr

I think that for the development of cool and useful hacked labgear and bioexperimentation, it’s important to bring together a diverse group of people to come up with new ideas and also new approaches to do artistic and homebrew style of how to work with scientific topics, so we try to mix people accordingly.

With the last important topic of the hackteria project, the network of people and shared web platform, we want to inspire enthusiasts all over the world to do their own hackteria projects by themselves and share and collaborate.

The Kuglica song from NanoŠmano – Šmall Matter
Song and ferrofluid-matrix by Stefan Doepner, video by Boštjan Leskovšek

What excites you about the future in this context?

MD: Hmm… There is the thing with the highly abundant technology, for example, all the consumer electronics, phones, cameras, gaming stuff. On one hand, most people are not aware about how the technology works and also what to use them for, other what is made and sold for.

Nowadays we have access to very cheap (they even land on the garbage) high-tech devices with a lot of the population losing their grasp on a deeper understanding of the “black boxes”, mystifying technology and are unable to open and hack stuff.


Etching session by Hackteria
Photo by Marc Dusseiller taken from flickr

I really see the hacking and DIY approach highly important on a social level and in fact when the hackers approach of using these devices and applying them into new surroundings, such as amateur science, artistic work dealing with science or just building homebrew laboratories, these devices suddenly can be turned into highly useful applications.

The microscope is just one of these examples and its impact, for example, in education and research in developing countries has been mentioned before. Other approaches might have the same implications.  For example a DVD burner… another black box… it burns DVDs… but what is it? It’s a little machine, it has two lasers, a few motors and electronics controls…

…and it could be used in many ways

MD: Exactly, for example to burn highly precise little holes into a plastic disc, with ultra-high speed and at the same time read-out with a second lasers, that’s more or less what highly expensive biomedical research instruments do as well, but much more expensive, much slower and maybe also a bit different stuff to look at than a piece of a crappy Hollywood movie.

So, in the NanoSmano lab we investigated the use of DVD burners for nano and bio experimentation. We are not the first ones.  Btw, there are loads of instructions out there about hacking these devices.

People built for example a quite decent scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) from a DVD burner. Also, people already build diagnostic devices combining microfluidic disc-platform with CD or DVD readers and I think this approach of using existing technology, but applying it to other uses might be the most interesting thing I have in mind in this context, and especially here the trans-disciplinary collaboration of artists/hackers/scientists plays a key role in coming up with cool idea, and as mentioned earlier different cultural backgrounds and contexts are even more fostering these ideas.


Hackteria code through Pure Data

What about the low tech? Usually people perceive DIY with gadgets, but tend to forget that simple solutions might be the key in front of our noses…

MD: There are two things: on one hand I think the low tech approach is great in any educational purpose, for kids, artists or young scientists and students. You got to understand and be able to work-do-handle low-tech to be able to handle high tech instruments. The fact that you can build something out of scratch by yourselves gives you the understanding of the difficulties and also gives you the guts to go further.

Also if we look back into history, let’s say Victorian times, scientific and technological developments, it was all bloody low-tech: a few wires, maybe a piece of glass and a cat’s fur… there you go, you suddenly come up with theory of electricity. Having all these “low tech” stuff nowadays so abundantly available, the re-enactment of these approaches, I think is important for understanding and getting creative.


Biosynthesis of Silver Nanoparticles
Photo by (cc)

And also, nowadays it will be definitely possible to all of us artists to have access to pieces of wire and so looking at these historical “lowtech” stuff enables us to understand the fundamental methods of the current scientific methodologies. That’s the educational part.

On the other side, the “low-tech” approach, as you mentioned, is also the key in coming up with cool things that are accessible to e.g. artists for an installation, limited budget and tech-skills, but a creative expression/goal in his mind. It’s the only solution that they can afford…

In the end, also the “low-tech” approach is a key in solving some of the problems in the world (not all, by far not all). Same starting point as the artist: limited budget and know-how in poor countries restricts them in finding their own solutions for their problem. But here I want to state that most problems will not be solved with technology, neither low-tech nor high-tech, but with political means and social engagement.

Marc, Thanks a lot!

p.s. Special thanks to Robertina Sebjanic from

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