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Brief Published: 3 Dec 2015

MIT’s Hydro-Reactive Fabric

Second Skin hydro-reactive fabric by MIT

Researchers at MIT's Tangible Media Group in Massachusetts have used bacteria to develop a "bio-skin" fabric that peels back in response to sweat and humidity.

Part of the BioLogic materials project, Second Skin incorporates a microorganism called Bacillus Subtilis Natto, which possesses a unique ability to expand and contract in reaction to the amount of moisture it's exposed to.

Led by MIT designer Lining Yao, the team grew billions of the cells in the university bio lab, cultivating them for use in a micron-resolution bio-printer. The printed film composites were given to designers at the Royal College of Art in London, who integrated them into clothing using heat maps of the areas where the human body sweats the most during physical exertion.

The resulting responsive garments feature small, fin-shaped pieces of the film that peel back when the wearer is hot, providing ventilation to cool the wearer down. By responding instinctively to the athlete's needs, the innovative smart material either provides warmth or reduces heat as necessary.

New ways to incorporate the fabric into sportswear are being explored with US-based sports giant New Balance. Beyond Second Skin, the team suggest the bio-hybrid film could be used for shape- and colour-changing applications. Vast future applications may include bigger industrial and architectural uses.

Scientists and designers are increasingly looking towards nature and living organisms for material development. See more examples of biological research being used to develop new intelligent materials in our Materials Focus 2017-18 reports Wondrous Response and Honed Synthetics.