Each year we search the globe for people and projects that have outstandingly contributed to make this planet a more sustainable place and honour them with our ECO Coin Award. We search for people working on projects that are community driven, use nature and technology in an innovative way, and share their knowledge with others.

This year’s winner is Emma van der Leest.

Emma collaborates with different disciplines, including scientists, physicists, artists and designers. Forerunning in the field of ‘biofabrication’ (or, biodesign), Emma incorporates living organisms—think bacteria, fungi, algae or cells—into her design process, and turns her research into accessible stories for a broad audience. Albeit through artistic work (her project ‘Microbial Vending Machine’ is currently on view as part of our large-scale exhibition RetroFuture), or curatorial work (Emma co-curated this year’s Dutch Innovation Pavilion at the Floriade alongside with curator William Myers).

The Microbial Vending Machine at the RetroFuture Fun Fair exhibition. Photo: Joep Jacobs

And there’s more. She plays an active role in education, sharing her knowledge with students; she currently teaches the course ‘Growing Cultures’ at the MA Ecology Futures at the Master Institute of Visual Cultures from St. Joost Academy (Avans). Previously she has taught at Central Saint Martins in London and the Design Academy in Eindhoven and had a research position at the Willem de Kooning, where she started to develop a biolab.

Biolabs are core to Emma’s whereabout, as she is the co-founder of BlueCity Lab, a biocircular playground for emerging bioneers. This lab is located in the old changing rooms of the former tropical swimming pool Tropicana, and consists of four spaces: the Fabrication Lab, Fungi Lab, Biochemistry lab and Microbiology Lab. 

To conclude with the words of Emma van der Leest, "Let's grow the future, together!"

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