The running clothes of the future will do more than just wick moisture away from your skin. They’ll change shape the minute you start sweating.
BioLogic, a new project from researchers at the MIT Media Lab (in conjunction with New Balance), uses living cells to create clothing that responds to sweat. In a paper in Science Advances (as spotted by designboom), the research team describes how they used E. coli cells (not the strain that gives you food poisoning) to make a shirt with vents that open and close in response to moisture.
The cells are printed on latex fabric, and when they expand and contract in response to moisture or heat, they alter the fabric, too, peeling it up or letting it relax flat.
The resulting suit is designed with flaps of bacteria fabric located above the parts of the upper body that produce the most heat. When you wear it, the shirt’s vents open up just when your body starts to get warm. In one test, sensors showed that the cell-lined shirt removed more sweat and kept skin temperatures lower than a running suit with a similar flap design. Wen Wang, one of the project’s leaders, described the feeling as being like "wearing an air conditioner on my back.”
The researchers created running shoes that operate using the same technique, and also engineered the cells to light up in response to sweat—so that they could make runners more visible in the dark. In the future, the responsive fabric might be able to emit a smell to mask body odor, too.