MIT researchers create bio-skin that reacts to sweat, suggests future of self-ventilating clothes
Researchers at Tangible Media Group at MIT Media Lab, led by PhD student Lining Yao, are using ancient bacteria to create synthetic material called BioLogic, which moves, expands and contracts when it is exposed to moisture. The bacteria discovered some 1000 years back in Japan is called Bacillus Subtilis natto. While testing various microorganisms in the lab, Lining Yao discovered that natto bacteria expanded and contracted when exposed to moisture – this is when she was struck with the idea to try and use this bacterium to act like a machine instead of an unpredictable organism.
By careful calibration, the bacteria works as nano-actuator (motors), which responds to person’s sweat or humidity in the atmosphere.
As practical application, researchers are bio-printing the bacteria onto fabric. For this, Yao and her team grew natto cells in bioreactors in the labs and carefully tracked their growth using Atomic Force Microcopes and other useful equipment. In the bioreactors, billions of cells were grown, which then were then bio-printed using micron-resolution printers. The using 3D modeling technique, the natto cells were tested for different design patterns.
The printed film composites, well tested in the labs were then given to designers at the Royal College of Art and sportswear company New Balance to integrate these printed cells into clothing in places where human body sweats the most. Embedding the printed cells onto clothing means, the living bacteria opens flaps under the armpits or other areas where they are embedded, as and when a person’s sweat level reaches a certain point.
According to the research team, the application of the cell-based clothing technology isn’t limited to clothing for athletes or sportspersons. Since, the organism can react to change in moisture in the atmosphere, the technology could find its way into kinetic lampshades, which open and close when heat from the light bulb or even extend to tea bags, which could notify when they are good to use.
Though, technology is still in a very juvenile stage, but the team takes this early research as a paradigm shift from building in factories to growing in labs, which could be the future of clothes.