We scale diatom frustules to meter-large ice sculptures

A statement for our environment

Francisca Rocha Gonçalves & Johannes Wilhelm Goessling et al.


Diatoms are abundant micro-algae on Earth. Although each one is smaller than a human hair, they produce 40% of the oxygen in the atmosphere, needed to maintain most lifeforms in our Biosphere. But diatoms bear a significant secret: they produce glass shells with highly periodic pore pattern, so tiny and precise that they interact with the light from the Sun.

In fact, those structures are highly demanded in frontier technologies such as in telecommunication and medicine, but also needed as key components to build quantum computers.

During the ICARUS (Ice Diatom Structures) project, we will upscale the microscopic glass shells from diatoms to meter-large ice sculptures, making them visible to the human eye. We will display the structures in a public setting; first to draw awareness to the existence of high-technology structures available in nature, and to make the emphatic statement that we must protect nature to maintain such natural resources not only because they are so important in our daily life, but for the generations to come to solve future problems with sustainable, natural solutions.

Our project is endorsed by the UN Ocean Decade activity and promoted by the Temporada Cruzada Portugal-França 2022, a bilateral diplomatic program between Portugal and France. We work with Johann Lavaud (University of Brest, France) and João Serôdio (University of Aveiro, Portugal) and many other colleges. The main scientific work is performed at the Department of Biology and Centro de Estudos do Ambiente e do Mar (CESAM) @Universidade de Aveiro.

We work with Diamond Pure Ice located in Porto, who built facilities to grow large-scale ice cubes without any impurities. Using negative molds, we will scale the microscopic structures from diatoms to make them visible to the naked eye. This is not easy, as the structures have complex 2D or 3D porosity, but with a large team of supporters and collaborators, we are confident to succeed. And once we got there? Well, then we will let the structures melt! Our art will disappear – just like our natural resources if we don´t pay attention to their protection.

Let´s make a strong statement for the diatoms and for nature as our largest resource of innovation!

Project updates