A luminescent tree, from which hung bags of green algae lit up with LED lights, was a popular “selfie” spot at the recent School of Engineering Postgraduate Research and Innovation Symposium held at T-block on UKZN’s Westville campus. This creative installation by undergraduate and postgraduate Civil Engineering students, showed how students when presented with a creative challenge, can generate something unique, present engineering science, yet simultaneously highlighting its aesthetic features.

The medium of exhibition was algae, which are amongst the oldest and most important organisms on earth. Over millions of years, algae produced the oxygen that made our atmosphere breathable and today, it still contributes to more than 50% of the earth’s oxygen production. Although considered a nuisance when found in swimming pools or natural systems, algae carry huge potential for an alternative source of energy and biofuels.

Hence, the “algae tree” is part of innovative biofuels research project under the guidance of Professor Derek Stretch, Drs Katrin Tirok and Justin Pringle (environmental fluid mechanics lab UKZN). The research aims to explore the effects of turbulence on algae growth in an attempt to optimize the harvesting of algae for biofuel.

Additional information on the algae to biofuels project is accessible on https://efml.github.io/efml-live/

Words: Rudi Kimmie