CREDIT: Tangible Media Group/Vimeo
Researchers at MIT have created a new type of clothing that can breathe when you get too warm. This isn’t “breathing” in the way that your light cotton shirt does–the apparel actually contains living cells that react to moisture.
According to MIT News, the scientists used live microbial cells that contract or expand in response to humidity. The cells are from a common, nonpathogenic strain of E. coli, which sounds alarming but is actually completely harmless–so much so that the researchers say they could even be consumed safely.
Even so, thanks to support frames, the flaps with the cells don’t quite touch the skin, but instead rest just above it. The cells react to humidity in the air, which causes them to open up when the wearer starts to sweat. The researchers adjusted the size of each flap and the degree to which they open based on where the body produces the most heat and sweat.
The left photo was taken before exercise when ventilation flaps are flat; after exercise, the ventilation flaps have curved.
CREDIT: Hannah Cohen
During testing, the team found that wearing the shirts during workouts helped limit sweat and lower the wearer’s body temperature. One of the researchers who wore the shirt while biking said the sensation was like “wearing an air conditioner on my back.”
The cells are also capable of being programmed to perform other functions, such as glowing in humid conditions, which would be a welcome feature to night-time runners. Wen Wang, the study’s lead researcher, told MIT News that they’ll be able to genetically engineer the cells to have odor-releasing functionalities in the future. “So maybe after going to the gym, the shirt can release a nice-smelling odor,” she said.
The team says it’s looking to collaborate with sportswear companies in the future to commercialize the invention. It’s worth noting that the team includes researchers from New Balance. The project, called BioLogic, also included a rough prototype of a ventilated running shoe that breathes through flaps.
Fun fact: If the image above makes you inexplicably squeamish, you might have trypophobia, or a fear of small patterned holes. This reporter has been cringing the entire time he wrote this.
Check out the video below that shows the apparel being created and put to use, if you can.