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MIT researchers create 'living' textile
18
Feb '16
Courtesy: Tangible Media Group/MIT Media Lab
Courtesy: Tangible Media Group/MIT Media Lab
Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab's bioLogic group have created a new form of performance fabric that combines biomaterials research with textile design. BioLogic is growing living actuators and synthesizing responsive bio-skin in the era where, researchers declare, “bio is the new interface.” They are imagining a world where actuators and sensors can be grown rather than manufactured, being derived from nature as opposed to engineered in factories, MIT said on its website.

Under the direction of Professor Hiroshi Ishii, the bioLogic team has unearthed a new behavior of the ancient bacteria Bacillus subtilis natto: the expansion and contraction of the natto cells relative to atmospheric moisture. The team is capitalizing on this natural phenomenon by embedding the bacteria into fabric to ventilate garments. They harvest the animate natto cells in a bio lab and assemble them with a micron-resolution bio-printing system, transforming them into responsive fashion, a “second skin.” The synthetic bio-skin reacts to body heat and sweat, causing flaps around heat zones to open, enabling sweat to evaporate and cool down the body through an organic material flux.

Together with New Balance, bioLogic is applying this technology to creating sportswear that regulates athletes' body temperatures, thereby enhancing performance. Lining Yao, who is responsible for concept creation, interaction design, and fabrication for bioLogic, explains, “We are trying to explore how the physical materials and physical environment can be smarter, more adaptive, and become part of us. This garment will understand when you sweat, and it will sense and open up to release your sweat, and close up to keep you warm again. A garment can become an interface that can communicate with your body. The reason we started to explore this bacteria is that we knew that in the natural world there are a lot of smart materials that are naturally responsive. It's very sensitive to even tiny changes in the skin condition, so we thought an on-skin transformable textile would be a really interesting application.”

Beyond the industrial collaboration, a grant from the MIT Council for the Arts enabled bioLogic to invite fashion and product designers from the Royal College of Art, Oksana Anilionyte and Helene Steiner, to bring the project to a new artistic level. Yao explains that bioLogic chose to focus their efforts on the more cutting-edge technological, artistic, or conceptual ideas, and hope some of the pragmatic concerns - like washing and caring for garments made from the “bio-skin” - will be addressed by the wider design community who produce and use the fabric. The project has already piqued the interest of several fashion designers from Central Saint Martins and Parsons, who see a number of potential uses, including creating a garment for Korean women who fish and using this natural nanoactuator to explore other forms of clothing.

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