Women in Nanoscience


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Bacteria-infested fabric? No sweat!

Posted on April 10, 2016 at 10:15 PM


The MIT Media Lab has pulled together a diverse team to incorporate living bacteria into synthetic clothing. The bacteria allow the fabric to respond to the production of human body moisture “within seconds,” says Lining Yao, the lead for BioLogic, the hybrid materials project in MIT’s Tangible Media Group. The team consists of Lining Yao (concept creation, interaction design and fabrication), Dr. Wen Wang (biotechnology and material science), Guanyun Wang (industrial design and fabrication), Helene Steiner (interaction design), Chin-Yi Cheng (computational design and simulation), Jifei Ou (concept design and fabrication), Oksana Anilionyte (fashion design) and Prof. Hiroshi Ishii (PI of Tangible Media Group). Yao explains that the team combines technology advancement and design, and were inspired by the living world and how bacteria adapt to external stimuli. The clothing they designed has multiple triangular flaps with millions of bacteria on top of them. When a person wearing the fabric begins to sweat, the bacteria expand, causing the flaps to open up. Once the skin dries, the bacteria contract which closes the flaps.

(From left to right): Patrick Yocum (dancer), Wen Wang (biotechnology and material science, MIT Chem.E.), Zach Both (video photographer), Hiroshi Ishii (academic advisor, director, Tangible Media Group, MIT Media Lab), Oksana Anilionyte (fashion designer, MIT Media Lab/Royal College of Art), Lining Yao (concept creation, interaction design and fabrication, MIT Media Lab), Jifei Ou (concept design and fabrication, MIT Media Lab), Chin-Yi Cheng (computational design and simulation, MIT Architecture ), Caralin Curcio (dancer).

And then there is an interesting connection to Japanese food delicacies… Natto is a famous delicacy in Japan since its discovery by a samurai about a millennium ago. Yao recalls B. subtilis natto fermented the samurai’s steamed soybeans inside their straw wrapping, while he was busy fighting a battle. Dr. Wen Wang, a scientist in Department of Chemical Engineering at MIT, accidentally discovered that Bacillus subtilis natto microbial cells could be used to fabricate actuators that sense humidity changes in the environment. Because of its extraordinary ability to respond so quickly to moisture, and the fact that it is not harmful to the human body, natto was a great choice for breathable textiles. The researchers think that the bacteria’s cellular structure with thin cell walls is responsible for the quick transport of water. With funding support from New Balance Inc., Yao and Dr. Wang collaborated with Helene Steiner and Oksana Anilionyte, fashion designers from London’s Royal College of Art to create beautiful full-body prototype garments. Computational team members and those involved in design research—Guanyun Wang, (designer, Zhejiang University), Chin-Yi Cheng, (architect from Department of Architecture (MIT), and Jifei Ou, (designer, MIT Media lab), helped automate the first step of the design process. They set up a new printer system which created the biohybrid film by precisely integrating the bacterial solution onto the fabric. This film is then cut into flaps and sewn into a wearable cloth. The team is now exploring how to make this material washable and suitable for wearing to the gym. See more here.

Photo Credit: Tangible Media Group/MIT Media

- Written by Nakita Sengar, edited by Paulette Clancy

(Photo credit: Provided by and used with permission from BioLogic team).

Categories: WINnews

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