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Experimental Design

Shontelle Xintong Cai

As a bio-inspired designer and interdisciplinary researcher, Shontelle Xintong Cai is currently based in Toronto and London. Her works explore the intersections of art, design, science and technology, especially biology-centred art and design.

She experiments with data design through visuals, sound and materials, experience systems and multimodal interaction. She particularly engages in audiovisual communication technologies, programming, ‘moist media’ and life science data in application of independent practices and collaborations with artists, engineers, and scientists.

Her art and design practices are influenced by her academic experiences in visual communication, digital media studies, and plant physiology. She critically and parametrically designs the innovative dialogues between complex scientific knowledge and cross-sensory experience. She applies the design methodologies of transmedia storytelling via informatics and computation, opening the discussions about the inherent values of non-human agencies, objecthood, posthuman ecology, emerging technologies, synthetic biology to the potential audience. 

She has connected and shared her creative practices and design paradigm with respect to several workshops, symposiums, awards and exhibitions in Asia, North America, continental Europe and the UK.


OCAD University-BDes Graphic Design, With Completion of an Academic Minor in Digital & Media Studies (2016-2020)

Royal College of Art- MA Information Experience Design, With the distinction of dissertation and final assessment in excellent (2020-2022)

Shontelle Xintong Cai-statement

Practices in IED:

During the degree research at IED, I delve into testing and prototyping the complexity and sensuality of information experience narratives, broadly the life science knowledge and cross-sensory interactive experience. This year, I investigate new insights into microbial morphology and spectromophology via machine learning, bio-informed practices, physical computing in wearables, 3D scanning, and publication.

To envision the relationships between human and non-human entities in reliable ways, I consult and collaborate with professionals working in scientific, technological and museological backgrounds. At this stage, I majorly connect with computer engineers, scientists and critics regarding museum studies, cellulose-based biomaterials, bio-inspired computation, computer visions, machine learning, human embryology, microbiome and bioinformatics research etc.

I consider Information Experience Design as Discussion: a design protocol centring around the non-human and ecological approach by sensory narratives and fictional objects.


"We see our own reflection in the microcosms. "

We co-evolve with the unseens (microbes) who are ubiquitous in nature. In the post-pandemic era, we as humans, have witnessed the ongoing trans-species entanglements and empowerment of micro-biopolitics. It is crucial to be respectful to the unknowns and surroundings and to recognize how micro-biopolitics highly influence human and non-human activities.

In London, our surrounding microbial territory shows the uniqueness of microbiological properties. After collecting the samples and observing them under the microscope, I raise my interest in speculating the artificial nature, bridging the virtual and physical ecosystem.

How can I digitize and re-materialize the data to present the unfamiliar interspecies communication? I believe the governance of microorganisms and relevant AI tools can lead me to expand the vision of “designing nature” with scientists and data analysts. From the general study in image processing of microbial morphology, I find my interest in creating natural and artificial specimens circling quorum sensing (bacterial cell-cell communication).

Finally, I desire to present the creativity and value of my trained data, work with professionals in different fields, and synthesize the entangled artificial/natural messages based on London microbial territory and evidence of bacterial talks.

I speculate a post-specimen museum in this project "Augmenting Hybrid Specimen", which enables scientists, artists and designers to imagine and predict the possible future of hybrid organisms,


Knowledge Complexity, Sensory Engagement, Inclusivity, Post-specimen, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning in Visualization, Sonification and Biology, Morphology, Biotextile, Bio-inspired and Bio-informed

Digitalization and Rematerialization in Bio-inspired Design
Digitalization and Rematerialization in Bio-inspired DesignQuadrants of audience engagement and discussion regarding bio-inspired design: This project is highly relevant to making a clear thread of what I explore in IED. I mainly explore the intersections of art, design, science and technology, especially bio-inspired narratives. My focus is to create object-oriented narration and programming. I present them with a systematic approach to sensory engagement and knowledge complexity. It could effectively bring up unconventional ideas and speculation in society.
Literature Riview
Literature RiviewThrough computer programming and 3d making, we have already experienced the power of virtual objects in daily life, like digital assets, experiences around fictional narratives, and community-based archives. Practically, referring to my background in visual communication and digital media studies, I am interested in digitalizing and rematerializing the morphology and properties of ordinary objects and non-humans.
Morphologies and Evidences of Bacterial Communication
Morphologies and Evidences of Bacterial CommunicationQuorum Sensing: Evidence of Bacterial Communication: How can humans understand and reflect on the unseen interspecies communication? I intend to create an fictional post-specimen museum with a series of artefacts and generative images, curating and narrating the bacterial communication (quorum sensing).
Machine Learning in the Context of Bio-visualization
Machine Learning in Bio-visualization Inspired by the past research centred on the application of machine learning of data

Bio-inspired Design in Relation to :

  • Fictionality and Sensuality  
  • Abstraction and Narration
  • Digitalization and Re-materialization

In this project, I examine how the interspecies hybrids, especially bacteria are able to challenge the human-centred museum environment through machine learning and 3d making.

Key references:


Digital Image
Artificial and Natural Specimens
Artificial and Natural SpecimensThe archive of design research, bio-visualization in 2D & 3D and machine learning in information experience in relation to quorum sensing. The initial research themes are inspired by the antique newspapers based in London.
Diversity of Unseen Communication; Quorum Sensing in Petri Dish
Diversity of Unseen Communication; Quorum Sensing in Petri DishTo examine the evidence of bacterial communication by a petri dish, I assisted and supervised the process of collecting and growing three samples from the pond and bark in Hammersmith Park and bacterial cellulose juice. The resin prototypes and photos restore the diverse landscapes of Petri dishes. After analyzing the dataset of petri dish images by 3D scan and machine learning, the generative collection of Petri dishes represents the different groups of communication in micro.
Artificial Morphology in Petri Dish
Artificial Morphology in Petri Dish After filming the process of Petri dish growth, I collect the still images as the data set to portray the artificial morphology in Petri dishes.
Artificial Morphology in Petri Dish
Artificial Morphology in Petri Dish
Winogradsky Column
Winogradsky Column
Winogradsky Column
Winogradsky ColumnA structured miniature ecosystem layered with variations of bacteria; An artefact displayed the induction of quorum sensing; I collect the pond and mud samples to create two pieces of Winogradsky Column regarding different nutrients and conditions.
Monthly Research Documentation
Launch Project
Research DocumentationClick to explore the additional research documents; The archive of design research, bio-visualization in 2D & 3D and machine learning in information experience in relation to quorum sensing

During the early stage of project analysis, the critical research-based practices are supported and supervised by professionals in RCA from research ethics assessment to the step-by-step process.


Ethics Check, Communication and Experiments: Nikolet Kostur, Charlotte Jarvis, Dr Carolina Ramirez-Figueroa and Mike Alexander

Tutorial Support: Dr Matt Lewis, Angus Main


Installation, Digital Images
Specimen As Narrative Medium and Museum Experiential Research
Specimen As Narrative Medium and Museum Experiential ResearchBy brainstorming from the literature review of Post-Specimen Encounters Between Art, Science and Curating, I consider specimen as the central narrative medium. To design and navigate the audience experience in the post-specimen museum, I would apply the methods of plot design in novel writing and systematic thinking of museum curation into fictional dialogues.
AI, Art, Design, Post-Specimen and Museum Narrative
AI, Art, Design, Post-Specimen and Museum NarrativeNotes and Summary Quoted: Degeng Li. The Curators of Culture. "Liquid Meseum". 2020. Edward Juler and Alistair Robinson (Editors). Post-Specimen Encounters Between Art, Science and Curating: Rethinking Art Practice and Objecthood through Scientific Collections. 2021. With My Inspired Process of Actions
Sensory Engagement of Cellulose-based biomaterials
Sensory Engagement of Cellulose-based biomaterials As the visible evidence of quorum sensing, I intend to add Bacterial cellulose-based materials to the museum environment, enhancing sensory engagement and multi-media narration.
Post-specimen Museum Experience Diagram
Post-specimen Museum Experience Diagram




-Microbial Movement/Talk


To experience, feel and sense the process, result and imaginative evidence of microbial communication

Target Public Audience:

Who is interested in learning knowledge from experience

Who is interested in exploring human-microbe(/bacteria) and interspecies relationships


Who wants to know how machine learning is

capable of making scientific graphics

Who works in the bio-relevant fields, desiring to know more

about data visualization and public engagement

Special Thanks:

Xintong Tian (


Shuxuan Yang (, University of Leicester, School of Museum Studies)

for professional consultations and feedback in Museum Studies.

Augmenting Hybrid Specimens: A Sonic Cabinet of Curiosities
Data Sonification From ImagesData Sonification From Images: to sonify the evidence of bacterial communication
This work had been presented in IRCAM Forum Paris Workshops in March 2022.
IRCAM Workshop Demo PresentationI mainly focus on exploring data sonification as a continuous study, presenting in IRCAM Workshop 2021 and 2022. Visualizing the microbial morphology and sonifying the images by granular synthesis are explored and designed immersively. The audio-visual installation had been presented in IRCAM Forum Paris Workshops in March 2022 (image credited by Rong Shi)

In “Augmenting Morphology, a Sonic Cabinet of Curiosities”, a soundscape is able to bridge fiction and reality. The artist investigates new insights into spectromophology and biological morphology in micro. The aesthetics of electroacoustic narratives and bio-visualization emerge from a speculative acoustic territory from a Wunderkammer (Cabinet of Curiosities) of a fictional post-specimen museum. The collections of unknown and fantasy objects are AI-generated specimens based on real microscopic images observed by the artist. The artist explores the potential role of machine learning and computer-assisted composition in the process of curating, analyzing and generating the sonic, visual and textual variations associated with fictional specimens.

The audiences get to perceive and build the knowledge of fictional specimens when processing and fusing multiple modalities simultaneously, particularly in this project, is the engagement of vision and audio. By exploring the multimodal storytelling and combinatory creativity of a series of specimens and sound effects, sensory information begins to flow, migrate and further create novel enigmatic mood and memory. Noise is constantly generated under the collision of synthesizer, code and image data. The establishment of spectral spatiality is contributed by granular synthesis and microsound in composition. Within an immersive audiovisual environment, the audiences observe the Cabinet of Curiosities including AI-generated microbes and sound objects.

This project intends to envelop data sonification, sound synthesis and digital image analysis of machine learning via GAN, open-source computer vision by processing, Wekinator, and MAX/MSP etc. This work had been presented in IRCAM Forum Paris Workshops in March 2022.


Digital, Sound


Image Sequence of Biofilm Formation
The Augmented Biofilm: HarmoniesThe film explores the possibility of audio-visual communication by mixed bio-visualization and chamber music. The visual artist and musicians work together to stimulate and paint a picture of the growing bacterial cellulose by digital canvas and soundscape.
Performance of Imaginary Landscapes
Performance of Imaginary LandscapesLance Mok (Piano) , Wong Ka Wing Karen (Flute) performed on the stage, witn the motion graphics created by Shontelle Xintong Cai (Media Artist) in Lewes.

"They are ubiquitous and delightful in digital and nature. They burble and harmonize through the unseen realms."

In collaboration with the musician in Lewes Music Group, this work depicts the delicate movement of biofilm with chamber music and data sonification. The artificial hybrids of biofilm are generated and animated by machine learning and visual programming. The original programme of this work is "Pastorale and Fioritura " composed by Lance Mok.

Composer: Lance Mok

Performer: Lance Mok (Piano) & Wong Ka Wing Karen (Flute)

Video & Sound Editor: Shontelle Xintong Cai


Video Installation, Moving Image, Chamber Music


Augmeting Hybrid Specimen
Augmeting Hybrid Specimen
Artificial Hybrid Specimens, Installation
Artificial Hybrid Specimens, Installation
Artificial Hybrid Specimens, Installation
Artificial Hybrid Specimens, Installation
Artificial Hybrid Specimens, Installation
Trace of Quorum Sensing (Micro and Macro)
Trace of Quorum Sensing (Micro and Macro)3D Print Inlaid with Bio-material; Tufted and Woven woven Fabrics; Small: 15cm in Diameter / Large: 68 x 70 x 1.5cm; "How do bacteria talk and go with the flow?" After digitalizing and training the dataset of bacteria and biofilm, the contour of microbial landscape is generated and selected to visualize in material. Assisted by professionals in textile, the micro and macro views of bacterial communication are depicted respectively.
Microbiota Mixed Media Sculpture; In the human body, bacterial biofilms are able to grow in many surfaces such as the gut, skin, teeth, and mucosa. Each person and each part of body can have different morphologies of biofilms due to dynamic movement and community of microbiota reside on or within the human tissues. The sculpture identifies the variety of microbial biofilms in human, critically thinking about the pros and cons.
Nanosilver and Bacterial Cellulose
Nanosilver and Bacterial Cellulose Mixed Media Sculpture; If we could understand the bacterial communication better, we could synthesize even customize the eco-friendly compound of bacterial cellulose and silver nanoparticles for wound dressing production in person. This set of sculpture speculates the foreseeable future about medical material innovation based on the knowledge of quorum sensing.
'Blueprint' of Biofilm (Micro and Macro)
'Blueprint' of Biofilm (Micro and Macro)Mixed Media Sculpture ; 22.5 x 16 x 25 cm / 13 x 13 x 13 cm; The set of sculpture shows the internal imaginary structure of 3D biofilm designed by machine learning.

In the post-pandemic era, humans have somehow expanded our understanding of microbial agencies, dependencies and relations. The embodied and surrounding microbial territories also show their unique morphologies and properties.

To challenge the limits of the current museological narrative and human-centred view, “Augmenting Hybrid Specimen” investigates the new insights into multispecies ethnography and communication in micro and machine learning. The aesthetics of bio-visualization and multi-modal archive critically emerges on a glimpse of the fictional post-specimen museum.

The artist solidifies microbial-related messages and interspecies communication into fiction and facts, storing them in a speculative cabinet of curiosity and film screening. This collection exhibits hybrid artefacts and code-generated data of quorum sensing (bacterial cell-cell communication), which diversely portrays the temporal and spatial distribution of the microbial community in the artist's neighbourhood.

With a distribution system of specimens and sensorial information built around the microbiome, it aims to shift the subjectivity and objectivity between human and unseen microbial communities in museums. The reinterpreted specimen and their narratives went through multiple iterations in biological sampling, bio-materialising, publishing, visual programming, and sonifying image-based data.

The fictional experience provokes a new discussion of symbiotic mutualisms and a better understanding and appreciation of the microbial self.




Process, Train, Simulate The Biofilm Formation
Process, Train, Simulate The Biofilm Formationby making SCOBY prototypes, 3D scanning and machine learning
Quorum Sensing in Biofilm Formation, Bio-material, Digital Images
Digital Fabrication: Trace of Bacterial Cellulose
Digital Fabrication: Trace of Bacterial Cellulose
Digital Fabrication: Growth of Bacterial Communication
Digital Fabrication: Growth of Bacterial Communication
Quorum Sensing in Biofilm Formation (SCOBY Prototypes with Natural Dyes)
Quorum Sensing in Biofilm Formation (SCOBY Prototypes with Natural Dyes)
Quorum Sensing in Biofilm Formation, Bio-material, Digital Images
Quorum Sensing in Biofilm Formation, Bio-material, Digital Images
Experience of Bioluminescence with Wearable Tech
Experience of Bioluminescence with Wearable TechThe Gleam of Biofilm in Vitro Medium: Wearable Electronics (Flora, Adafruit), Bio-material Bioluminescence is the significant and visible evidence of quorum sensing. This wearable prototype radiates novelty and connection, representing the progress of wearable sensors-based activities among algorithms, humans and nature.

The morphology of biofilms narrates the diversity of quorum sensing (bacterial cell-cell communication). These dried SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) samples are naturally dyed and displayed as the prototypes of nanofibrillar biomaterial (bacterial cellulose). They represent the bio-based product during bacterial communication, showing the possible collaborative future between humans and bacteria in sustainability, synthetic biology and ecology. As a critical practice, these collections are supported by Natural Matters-Future Material Lab, RCA.

Special Thanks to

Lingxi Hua by natural dye instructions;

Ziyi Wang and Alvin by 3D rendering support


Bio-material, Digital Images


Close Shots
Close Shots

In the "Augmenting Morphology: The Artificialis Historia", I investigate the new insights into biological morphology and multispecies ethnography in micro and machine learning. The aesthetics of micro-biopolitical narratives and bio-visualization critically emerge on a glimpse of the fictional post-specimen museum.

The collections of AI-generated specimens are based on microscopic images observed and captured in the ecosystem of London. I intend to engage the audiences to perceive and build relevant knowledge from fictional specimens, documents and dialogues around them, reflecting the power of micro-biopolitics in the post-pandemic era and historical entanglements with non-humans.