May 25, 2017 | By Tess

MIT researchers have used a novel cell printing method to design extremely breathable workout garments with ventilating flaps that move as the wearer’s body produces heat and sweat. The project, called “bioLogic”, integrates moisture-sensitive microbial cells in the garment’s material, which cause scale-like details to open or close depending on the wearer’s condition.

(Image: Hannah Cohen)

The innovative research project, which was recently published in the journal Science Advances, was co-led by Wen Wang, a former research scientist in MIT’s Media Lab and Department of Chemical Engineering, and Lining Yao, a former graduate student. bioLogic was initiated as part of MIT’s Tangible Media group, and was realized in collaboration with 14 other researchers from a range of disciplines.

The "living" garments were made using a nonpathogenic strain of E. coli, which was selected because of its moisture-sensitive nature. The E. Coli cells were also engineered to not only expand and contract when exposed to different humidities, but also to glow.

“We can combine our cells with genetic tools to introduce other functionalities into these living cells,” explained lead-author Wang. “We use fluorescence as an example, and this can let people know you are running in the dark. In the future we can combine odor-releasing functionalities through genetic engineering. So maybe after going to the gym, the shirt can release a nice-smelling odor.”

Illustration of reversible bending behavior

(Image: Chin-Yi Cheng​)

To integrate the microbial cells into a wearable textile, the researchers used a cell printing method to essentially print E. Coli cells onto sheets of latex. The printing process, which resulted in a “two-layer structure,” allowed the latex textile to shape-shift in various humidity and heat conditions.

More specifically, when the material was placed on a hot plate, the E. Coli cells began to contract (causing the latex layer to curl), and when subsequently placed near steam, the cells started to glow and expand, flattening the latex material out. Impressively, the researchers say they tested the printed fabric with over 100 wet/dry cycles without any obvious signs of material degradation.

The workout clothes themselves consisted of a running suit with “cell-lined latex flat patterned across the suit’s back.” The flaps, varying in size and opening angle, were specially placed on areas of the garment where the body produces the most heat and sweat. Interestingly, the researchers explain that these areas do not always overlap.

“People may think heat and sweat are the same, but in fact, some areas like the lower spine produce lots of sweat but not much heat,” Yao explained. “We redesigned the garment using a fusion of heat and sweat maps to, for example, make flaps bigger where the body generates more heat.”

When worn, the printed garment’s microbial cell details can sense changes in temperature and humidity and act accordingly. To test the wearable, a number of people were asked to wear the garment and exercise on treadmills or bikes. The researchers, who were monitoring the heat and humidity changes via small sensors on the participants’ backs, saw that after just five minutes of working out, the cellular flaps began to open up.

According to the participants, the sensors actually helped to remove sweat and moisture from the body and effectively lowered their temperature in certain regions. Wang, who tried the suit herself, said: “It felt like I was wearing an air conditioner on my back.”

Illustration of shoe sole ventilation

(Image: Chengyuan Wei)

Currently, the MIT research team is also working on developing a breathable running shoe with the same cell-printed material and ventilating functions. For the shoe model, the researchers sewed downward curving flaps between the wearer’s foot and the sole of the shoe. The idea is to ventilate the bottom of the foot, where most sweat and heat is produced.

If you’re getting your credit card ready to purchase some of the innovative workout gear, you might have to wait a little while, since the products are not commercially ready. Fortunately though, the MIT team is looking to partner with sportswear companies to bring its innovative cell-printed products to market.

“This work is an example of harnessing the power of biology to design new materials and devices and achieve new functions,” said Xuanhe Zhao, a co-author on the paper. “We believe this new field of ‘living’ materials and devices will find important applications at the interface between engineering and biological systems.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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