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Stamps Students Compete in 2020 BioDesign Challenge Summit

From June 15-19, 2020, a team of students from the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design competed as finalists in the Biodesign Challenge (BDC) Summit, a student competition that invites collaboration between biologists, artists, and designers to envision, create, and critique emerging biotechnology.

During the academic year, Stamps students developed their projects in the Winter 2020 Biodesign Competition Course, taught by Cathy Barry. The theme of the Winter 2020 class was “Climate Change/Climate Action: Creating Art and Design with our Planet’s Health in Mind.”


One student project from that course, Ka-Bloom!, was chosen to represent the Stamps School at the BDC Summit, where they competed against 44 other teams from twelve countries around the world. This year’s virtual summit featured student project videos and live Q & A’s between the team and Summit judging panel, which consists of over 50 leading entrepreneurs, curators, artists, designers, and scientists.


Through their BDC project, Ka-Bloom! team members — Jenna John (BFA, ‘21), Roy Schmidt (BFA, ‘20), Cassie Hoisington (BFA, ‘20), Alexandria Pompei (BFA, ‘20), and Ellie Ward (BFA, ‘21) — invite the public to imagine a speculative future of a world without lawns, which are maintained with wasteful water usage and environmentally destructive pesticides and fertilizers that wash into waterways, poisoning local ecosystems.


In an effort to encourage citizen action, the Ka-Bloom! team offers instructions on the creation of DIY “seed bombs” of native plants for use in rewilding lawns.


According to the team’s website: “climate action must involve restorative measures that have net good impacts on the environment rather than just harm reduction. By partnering with native plants, we are rebuilding relationships with nature to work towards a future in which people live symbiotically with nature.”

Watch the Ka-Bloom! Team’s full Biodesign Challenge presentation on YouTube.

According to Barry — whose creative practice and research areas include science, nature, and raising climate consciousness — Ka-Bloom’s project development benefited from the numerous visitors that joined the BioDesign course in the classroom over the Winter 2020 semester, including:

  • Microbes expert and Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Dr. Melissa Duhaime
  • Associate Dean for Research, Creative Work, and Strategic Initiatives and sci-arts practitioner Jane Prophet
  • Paleobotanist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences Dr. Selena Smith.
  • Stamps Associate Professor and speculative designer Bruce Tharp
  • Associate Professor and sustainability expert/designer, Joe Trumpey

"The Ka-Bloom! team fine-tuned their ideas to create a product that might have a local impact with a focus on native, Michigan plants,” Barry said of her student’s work. “They addressed a very large topic but then narrowed it down to an achievable action in which everyone may participate."

Learn more about Ka-Bloom! On the team’s website or follow them on Instagram: @KaBloom_ BDC.