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Polymer from the ocean used in water-based fabrication

May 21st, 2018 / By: / EcoNote

Photo: MIT Media Lab.

Under the leadership of designer and architect Neri Oxman, a group of researchers from the Mediated Matter group at MIT have developed a water-based digital fabrication platform using a renewable polymer from the ocean. The process combines an age-old, crustacean-derived material with robotic fabrication and synthetic biology.

This biologically derived digital fabrication process creates forms that use graded material properties for hydration-guided self-assembly. A robotically controlled, multi-chamber extrusion system deposits biodegradable composites across length scales.

The researchers summarized the process in this statement:

“The structures are made of a single material system derived from chitin – the most abundant renewable polymer in the ocean, and the second most abundant polymer on the planet. Ground arthropod shells are transformed into chitosan, a chitin derivative, to form a variable-property aqueous solution. Once printed, constructs are form-found through evaporation patterns given by the geometrical arrangement of structural members and by the hierarchical distribution of material properties.

“Controlled wrinkling follows. Each component will find its shape upon contact with air, and biodegrade upon contact with water. Living matter in the form of cyanobacteria is coated and impregnated onto chitosan samples to enable surface functionalization and impart additional properties such as water resistance and conductivity.”

Proposed applications include recyclable products, a variety of containers, and sculpture or temporary architectural design features.

Neri Oxman is a professor at the MIT Media Lab where she leads the Mediated Matter research group. She researches digital fabrication technologies and how they can interact with the biological world. Oxman was a nominee for THE DESIGN PRIZE 2018 (Milan) in the category of experimentation.