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Brief Published: 18 Mar 2013

Silkworms Inspire 3D-Printed Pavilion

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Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) plan to build a 3D-printed building using the same techniques employed by silkworms to build their cocoons. As part of their research the scientists attached tiny magnets to the heads of the silkworms to study how they build their pupal casings. The researchers then translated the motion capture data to a 3D printer connected to a robotic arm, allowing them to replicate the structure on a larger scale.

The CNSilk Pavilion, which will measure 12 feet by 12 feet when finished, is being developed by scientists at the Mediated Matter Group at MIT in collaboration with Fiorenzo Omenetto, a professor at Tufts University, and James Weaver, a research associate at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute.

The design is part of a research project to explore how biological systems can extend the capabilities of 3D printing. Current 3D printers are only able to produce objects made from homogeneous materials, and are limited in their ability to vary texture and structure. However, silkworms can build pupal casings with a hard exterior and a soft, comfortable interior for their pupae.

Scientists at MIT believe the experiment may help to develop construction methods capable of producing more responsive large-scale 3D-printed structures. “Such material architectures could simultaneously bear structural load, change their transparency so as to control light levels within a spatial compartment (building or vehicle), and open and close embedded pores so as to ventilate a space,” the project’s website says.

At last month’s TED conference in California, MIT researchers unveiled new technology for 3D-printed objects to “transform and adapt” to their surroundings –that is, to become 4D. These emerging 3D- and 4D-printing techniques could transform the construction industry in coming years. For more, see 3D Printing: From Gimmick to Game Changer and Learning from Natural Systems.

Mediated Matter Group, MIT

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