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bioLogic – Living nanoactuators yield interfaces that are grown, not manufactured


Created by the MIT Media Labs’ Tangible Media Group in collaboration with MIT’s Deptartment of Chemical Engineering, RCA and New Balance, bioLogic explores opportunities around developing new forms of interface using biology instead of circuitry. The team are imagining a world where actuators and sensors can be grown rather than manufactured, and have developed living actuators as a bio-skin that responds to the body’s changing temperature and moisture.

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.

Grown animate cells are harvested in a bio lab, assembled by a micron-resolution bio-printing system, and transformed into responsive fabric (a ‘second skin’) designed as a 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 moisture to evaporate and cool down the body through an organic material flux.

The project is the result of extensive research from team members coming from diverse backgrounds, including design, art, science, engineering. The team includes:

Lining Yao, concept creation, interaction design and fabrication, MIT Media Lab.
Wen Wang, biotechnology and material science, MIT Dept. of Chemical Engineering
Guanyun Wang, industrial design and fabrication, MIT Media Lab/Zhejiang University
Helene Steiner, interaction design, MIT Media Lab/Royal College of Art
Chin-Yi Cheng, computational design and simulation, MIT Architecture
Jifei Ou, concept design and fabrication, MIT Media Lab
Oksana Anilionyte, fashion design, MIT Media Lab/Royal College of Art
Prof. Hiroshi Ishii, direction, Tangible Media Group, MIT Media Lab

The team are exhibiting the bioLogic project in the lobby of MIT Media Lab (building E15) from next week (October 28th) until the end of December.

Project Page | Tangible Media Group, MIT Media Lab