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Your portrait, made from pulsating bacteria

What happens when you use tiny electromagnetic coils to shift the position of light-scattering bacteria? In the hands of a couple of science-minded artists, you get an intriguing "Living Mirror."

The "Living Mirror" bio-display captures people's images and translated them a live, 3D portrait.

I have a new favorite artist: bacteria. Imprinted onto cell phones, it can look like flowers, or even distant galaxies. Some types of it can rotate in ways that cause light to scatter, creating a visible shimmer.

It can also make you sick, of course. But let's focus on the pretty little light pulses here.

Two London-based artists have taken magnetotactic bacteria, which can orient itself along Earth's magnetic fields, and combined it with electronics and photo manipulation to create real-time "portraits" of anyone who visits their interactive installation. They call their bio-display "Living Mirror," as the cells "form a 'living mirror' within liquid media from live portrait images captured of individuals."

In other words, if you've always wanted to see how you'd look as a glowing cell culture, this if your chance.

"Multiple pulsating waves of bacteria can be made to form a pixelated but recognizable image using tiny electromagnetic coils that shift magnetic fields across surface areas," explain the creators of "Living Mirror," Laura Cinti and Howard Boland of the art-science collective C-Lab. "By taking pixel values from darker and lighter areas in captured images, Living Mirror attempts to programmatically harmonize hundreds of light pulses to re-represent the image inside a liquid culture."

The process involves a mounted camera that captures moving images of an audience member. Software translates the image into a pixel dimension corresponding to the final resolution of the physical grid. The mirror image is then created in real time on a large round display using an electromagnetic grid that can pull or release cells. The resulting image won't work as a passport photo, but it does represent a rather unusual blend of art and science.

"The project aims to build an interactive installation integrating software, hardware, and wetware to produce a novel imaging device," the artists say.

"Living Mirror" is among the winning projects from the 2012-2013 Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Award, which highlights the intersection of art and life sciences, and it will be exhibited at Naturalis' Raamsteeg 2, the former home of the Dutch National Museum of Natural History, in Leiden, through mid-December.

The artists collaborated with Dutch biophysics institute FOM Institute AMOLF for "Living Mirror," a scientifically detailed endeavor that took five months to get into place. See our gallery above for more on how they pulled the magnetic bacteria into the artistic spotlight. Next up, an E.coli selfie?

(Via we make money not art)