Showcased during the recent Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, Susana Soares created a buzz around her series of dual-chamber glass diagnostic tools. Trained honey bees are placed inside the tools and can sniff out chemical compounds in a person’s breath associated with the early signs of certain diseases, including tuberculosis, diabetes and certain cancers.

Soares, who currently resides in London, came up with the idea, having come across some research demonstrating bees’ extraordinarily acute sense of smell and their ability to pick up on odours, specifically chemicals and biomarkers.

“The aim of this project is to develop upon current technological research by using design to translate the outcome into systems and objects that people can understand and use, engendering significant adjustments in their lives and mind set,” says Soares.

The bees can be trained within 10 minutes to detect the odours using the famous Pavlov’s reflex. During the 1890s Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov founded classical conditioning through various training experiments with dogs. Basically, the conditioned response is the learned response to a previously neutral stimulus.

“The training consists of baffling the bees with a specific odour and feeding them with a solution of water and sugar, therefore they associate that odour with a food reward,” explains Soares.

During the development process she worked with two glass masters and together they designed a series of functional yet beautiful objects that each consist of two chambers. The larger of the chambers contain the bees, only a few, and the smaller chamber has a mouthpiece that the user breathes in to.

The bees will fly towards the opening of the small chamber only if they detect that specific odour they were trained to find. Although they anticipate a sweet reward if they do detect it, the small chamber has been designed in such a way that the bees can’t actually fly in.

The Bee’s project was completed a couple of years ago, however Soares has continued to test and refine the prototypes as it has drawn a great deal of attention. “There’s plenty of interest in the project especially from charities and further application as a cost-effective early detection of illness, specifically in developing countries,” she explains.

In her more recent projects, Soares has continued with the insect theme but this time it involves eating them. The ‘Insects Au Gratin’ project debates the nutritive and environmental aspects of insects as human food. She has created a process whereby powdered insects along with other ingredients are 3D printed into various shapes, making them ready to eat or cook.

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