Scientists at MIT are using live cells and 3D biological printers to create a suit that expands and contracts in response to humidity. The idea is to design fabrics that rearrange to your body depending on your activity.
The project is called BioLogic and is developed by MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group. Led by Lining Yao of MIT, the group focuses on finding ways to use microorganisms to power objects and interfaces.
For this project, the team was inspired by a bacteria commonly used in Japanese cooking called Bacillus Subtilis. Japanese cuisine has been using it since time immemorial to ferment certain foods. This organism rapidly reacts to moisture contracting or expanding, in some cases even increasing its volume by 50%. At more humidity, the bigger it gets.
Yao partnered with sportswear powerhouse New Balance and designers from the Royal College of Art to design “Second Skin”, a fabric that expands and becomes more breathable as the wearer’s body heat and humidity increases.
They put the bacteria into a biofilm that was printed in layers on strips of spandex. This biofilm was printed in different patterns depending on the desired behavior of the fabric. To make a piece of fabric curl up, the biofilm was applied uniformly across the material; to make the fabric bend sharply, the film was printed in lines. At 100% humidity, the flaps are open completely allowing maximum breathability.
In the particular case of the BioLogic project, they’ve “only” been using natural natto cells, which haven’t been tweaked to do anything beyond their natural expansion and contraction behavior. But one can only imagine the possibilities when genetic modification is taken into account. Scientists could in the near future alter the cell’s DNA structure to perform complex, “custom made” functions like adding bioluminescence or self cleaning capabilities.
“We’re just at the beginning,” Yao told Wired.