MIT designs moisture-responsive gym gear to cool you down as you sweat

MIT designs moisture-responsive gym gear to cool you down as you sweat

a team of researchers at MIT has designed a breathable workout suit with ventilating flaps that open and close in response to an athlete’s body heat and sweat. the flaps—which range from thumbnail to finger-sized—cover the surface of the suit’s fabric like scales. the ventilating flaps are lined with live microbial cells that shrink and expand in response to changes in humidity. the cells act as tiny sensors and actuators, driving the flaps to open when an athlete works up a sweat, and pulling them closed when the body has cooled down.

MIT designs moisture-responsive gym gear to cool you down as you sweat
image courtesy of MIT/  hannah cohen



the fabric—dubbed bioLogic—has been created by printing lines of e.coli cells onto sheets of latex to create a ‘biofabric’ which was then worked into a wearable garment. the team evem tailored the size of each flap, as well as the degree to which they open, based on previously published maps of where the body produces heat and sweat. ‘we used a fustion of heat and sweat maps to design the garment’ explains bioLogic project co-leader and MIT graduate lining yao, ‘making the flaps bigger where the body generates more heat.’

MIT designs moisture-responsive gym gear to cool you down as you sweat



support frames underneath the fabric keep its inner cell layer from directly touching the skin, while at the same time, the cells are able to sense and react to humidity changes in the air lying just over the skin. when tested, the fabric  suit’s flaps started opening up, right around the time when participants reported feeling warm and sweaty. according to sensor readings, the flaps effectively removed sweat from the body and lowered skin temperature, more so than when participants wore a similar running suit with nonfunctional flaps.

MIT designs moisture-responsive gym gear to cool you down as you sweat



the researchers behind the project claim that the moisture-sensitive cells require no additional elements to sense and respond to humidity. for anyone put off by the thought of bacterial-clad clothes, fear not—the cells have been proven to be perfectly safe to touch, and even to consume. the idea for future production of the fabric is to use new genetic engineering tools available today, cells can be prepared quickly and in vast quantities to express multiple functionalities in addition to moisture response. the team have already experimented with adding cells that cause the fabric to light up in dark conditions.

MIT designs moisture-responsive gym gear to cool you down as you sweat



‘we can combine our cells with genetic tools to introduce other functionalities into these living cells,’ expains wen wang, the paper’s lead author and former research scientist at MIT media lab and department of engineering. ‘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!’

MIT designs moisture-responsive gym gear to cool you down as you sweat

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