Stuygi Hosts Fungi and Engineering Event With Guest Speaker Brandon Bunt

Brandon Bunt was invited as a guest speaker by the Stuygi club, Stuyvesant’s fungi club for an event on May 10.

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By Sarah Lifson

Stuygi, Stuyvesant’s fungi club, hosted a speaker event on May 10 with Brandon Bunt, a mechanical engineering graduate candidate from Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. The event took place from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m., and students got an opportunity to hear Bunt give a presentation on mycology, the study of fungi, and its engineering applications. Students interested in majoring in mechanical engineering and mycology were also able to get advice from Bunt about pursuing a career in these areas of study.

The club was able to organize the event through Zameen Cater, one of its members, who participated in a program Bunt taught that explored design and alternative construction materials using biodegradable options like mycelium. “We got contact through one of our members who went to a program a while ago about building soundproof panels made out of mycelium,” junior and Stuygi President Joshua Moe said.

One challenge leaders faced when planning the event was their lack of prior experience with inviting guest speakers. However, leaders were surprised by the ease of the invitation process. “I didn’t know we could just get a person to come into Stuy and just talk,” Moe said. “I thought you had to go through this really elaborate program and there were only certain people allowed to talk.”

However, event organizers faced many issues with scheduling that made it difficult for the event to be arranged. “[The main] issue with organizing it mostly involv[ed] the date we would do it. The date kept changing due to scheduling conflicts with our faculty advisor and our guest speaker,” junior and Stuygi Vice President Zara Bhuiyan said. This challenge persisted for over a month of online correspondence until the date was agreed upon, forcing the presentation to be delayed for around two months.

During the event, attendees learned about Bunt’s mechanical engineering research into using fungi as a sustainable alternative to traditional building materials. “He found out that a lot of [insulators] weren’t renewable and they were pretty expensive and they weren’t even that effective,” Moe said. “And then he looked at another material such as mycelium and found out that it worked really well, so what he started doing was he started growing mushrooms, but then before they fully grew, he killed them off and dried them into a brick of mycelium.”

Other attendees were fascinated by concepts in research and design in mechanical engineering being combined with science, as they had not considered the convergence of fungiculture and engineering. “I really did not know how fungi and engineering could intersect so well, but the speaker really showed how there are many new technologies being developed with fungi that the public is just learning about. These span from cosmetic items, like mycelium leather, to engineering tech, like mycelium insulation. The new possibilities for technology were shocking,” sophomore and Stuygi Planning Director Aeneas Merchant said.

Stuygi members also gained newfound knowledge about industrial mycology and the processes of growing fungi in the real world. “He told us some pretty good companies to e-mail and talk to about mushrooms and then he also showed how mushrooms are grown in Japan and that gave us a look into mushroom—fungi culture in general. He showed us industrial mushroom growing,” Moe said.

Ultimately, many were able to connect with the event; rather than sitting down to learn from a rigid presentation about one particular thing, students felt that they were able to ask questions relating to what they want to pursue in the future and gain insight into career paths. “There were a few students that wanted to go into engineering or wanted to go into mycology in college so they asked him questions about that as well,” Moe said. “It felt like you could really connect with them and ask him questions that pertain to you.”