“BEES DO IT” 3D printed Pollen”

María José Leaño (Teacher/Student Los Andes University, Core Group Biomimicry Bogota (Biomimicry Research Group), Project b-all. Bogota, Colombia.)


This installation shows a collection of 3D printed pollen grains, with images of flowers and pollinators found in and around Bogota.
In order to reproduce and create healthy seeds, plants utilize flowers to attract animals help them transport the pollen from one plant to another. In exchange, flowers offer them nectar and pollen as water and food, chemicals for pheromones and poisons, and places to rest and nest. These interactions have evolved for millions of years in win-win relationships. In some cases, taking away one kind of plant can send an entire animal population to extinction, and vice-versa. In this installation, it is possible to see details of these wonders using microscopes, 3D printing and other modern visual aid. This work awakens an awareness of our surroundings, and the effect that we have in the environment.
To observe pollen grains I have augmented each one a thousand (1000) times using a special process. In this way, a pollen grain that measures 50 µm in diameter measures now 5 cm, a fair size to hold in your hand. Imagine that, if a common bee measures around 1,5 cm, enhanced 1000 times it will measure 15 m.
Pollen grains measure between 5 and 200 µm.



I live in Bogota, the capital city of Colombia. Although it is located in the Tropics, it is cold because it is 2.600 m over sea level, right on top of the Andean Mountains, on the outskirts of a hill, in the eastern side of the Cundiboyacense plateau. It has no seasons, being the average temperature 14.5 °C, with dry and rainy seasons alternating throughout the year, which makes it a nice place for a wide variety of animals and plants. Before Bogota was founded in 1539, it was a wonderful rainforest with creeks running down the mountain to a lake. Today the city has a population of about 8.8 million people in an area of 1,587 km2, where the diversity of fauna and flora has decreased drastically. It is not easy to observe nature in the city, there are some natural parks, and some neighbourhoods have trees and beautiful gardens, but it’s not enough to compensate for the huge amount of cars and pollution. The Botanical Garden has being planting native trees on the sidewalks to help clean the air, and also for their beauty. People that still have gardens select plants with colourful and attractive flowers, most of them introduced, reducing the number of native plants, and their related pollinators.
Most people around the world love colourful flowers, hummingbirds and butterflies, but hate or are scared of other insects and animals, including bees or worms, mostly the caterpillars of butterflies, making it a great excuse to select plants that do not attract animals at all. Only the strongest survive. Native biodiversity has disappeared and plants are mostly there just for their looks.
Observing flowers I have seen that pollinators in Bogota have been reduced to the common honeybee, the Apis mellifera. The bee found in Bogota is a combination of both a European and an African type, created to adapt better to the tropical conditions. This bee is quite aggressive and has succeeded in adapting to many places, like Bogota. Near the mountain outskirts and other green areas it is possible to see hummingbirds and butterflies pollinating, depending on the types of plants as well.
This project started out of curiosity, learning to use microscopes to observe and print pollen in 3D, but has grown to a scientific and educational project used to help people understand how pollination works and why it is so important for humans. We constantly hear that bees are disappearing, and that it is going to affect humans somehow, but we don’t even understand how this is happening. For this reason I am preparing this work, to help people understand how pollination work and, in the long run, give everyone a chance to do something, before it is too late.
This is a work in progress, supported by the Microscopy Centre, the Research Vicerrectory and the departments of Biology and Design from Los Andes University in Bogota.


María José Leaño
I am a Colombian-German Textile Designer from los Andes University in Bogota, 1990, Master of Science in Textile Print Design from the University of Philadelphia, 1994, actually studying a Masters degree in Biomedical Engineering at los Andes University. My main field of research is the combination of Microscopy and Biomimicry, to develop smart and sustainable materials for packaging and textiles.
After graduating I lived and worked in Germany as a textile consultant, with my own company Papaya Design, creating print designs and helping develop software for the textile industry. After more than 12 years overseas I came back to Colombia where I continued working and teaching at various design schools and developing an exclusive line of objects with my own digital prints.
Concerned with the impact that textiles and clothing have in the environment, and seeing how my favourite inspiration subject, Nature, is being affected by the textile and packaging industry, I started studying Biomimicry and Microscopes on my own, a perfect combination for my actual and future projects.
Right now and together with the Biomimicry Research Group, I am developing the business model for the project b-all, certified by the Biomimicry Institute.

Balance-Unbalance 2017

Balance-Unbalance (BunB)
is an International Conference designed to use art as a catalyst to explore intersections between NATURE, SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY and SOCIETY as we move into an era of both unprecedented ecological threats and transdisciplinary possibilities.

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