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MIT Invents “Second Skin Biologic” Material Using Bacteria

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a new, breathable material called Second Skin, that involves the use of bacteria in the material, which in turn reacts to changes in humidity – allowing the material to open and close through a series of openings and flaps.

According to the researchers, the new fabric adapts to Bacillus Subtilis natto cells, similar to how the bacteria was inadvertently discovered in  Japanese more than a 1,000 years ago. To wit:

“A millennium ago, a Japanese samurai’s quest into battle took an unexpected turn. An abrupt attack in the midst of an evening meal led to a surprising culinary discovery. What was found on his journey was a previously undiscovered bacteria, Bacillus Subtilis natto. The microorganism lived inside dry rice stalks, which were woven into bags to carry soybeans in that age. Ever since this coincidental unearthing, the mysterious bacteria has become an established fermentation tool for the preparation of nattō, a soybean-based dish in Japan.”

“A thousand years into the future, a new behavior of the ancient bacteria has been unearthed: the expansion and contraction of the natto cells relative to atmospheric moisture. Enchanted by this phenomenon, a quest into the redefinition of actuation has become the ambition of the bioLogic team.”

“BioLogic seeks a harmonious perspective, where biological and engineering approaches flow in sync. These animate cells are harvested in a bio lab, assembled by a micron-resolution bio-printing system, and transformed into responsive fashion, a “Second Skin”. We can now observe the self-transforming biological skin activated by living bacteria. 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. In collaboration with New Balance, bioLogic is bringing what once may have lived in the realm of fantasies into the world of sportswear.”

“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. In collaboration with New Balance, bioLogic is bringing what once may have lived in the realm of fantasies into the world of sportswear,” says MIT.

Collaborating with the UK’s Royal College of Art, MIT’s Tangible Media Group has found a way of incorporating this technology into clothing, thus the name Second Skin.

In order to incorporate the technology in clothing, a composite biofilm was created from the cells, and subsequently integrated into the fabric. Furthermore, the printing of the biofilm can alter the characteristics of the flaps, namely by how much they react to body heat and how much they open. Moreover, since the cells react to levels of humidity, they only open as much as is necessary.

“We’re just at the beginning,” admits Lining Yao of MIT. It certainly has really interesting applications for cycling. Many cycle clothing manufacturers attempt to tackle overheating with vents you can open or close with a zip, but imagine a jacket with rear vents that automatically opened as you built up heat during a ride. We’re probably many years from seeing this become a reality, though, so don’t get your hopes up. But it’s an interesting glimpse of what future cycle clothing could be like.

To understand more about the technology, please visit MIT”s site at: http://tangible.media.mit.edu/project/biologic/

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