From Metal Chopsticks to Future Fabrics

Just over a year ago, my friends and I found ourselves enamored with the idea of 3D printed clothing. The idea was wild, daunting, and romantic. We wondered — would we one day download our clothes as we do our files? Would we begin sharing clothes as we already do our favorite pictures, songs, and articles?

Ray Kurzweil certainly thinks so. And we also believed it could be done. But while we dreamt of digitizing clothing, and sharing garments as files across the Internet, the actual technological solution seemed elusive.

Until we made a strange connection between metal chopsticks and blood vessels.

In college my co-founders and I studied tissue engineered blood vessels. These artificial cardiovascular constructs were made by passing dissolved polymers through an electric field, where they were pulled out of suspension and into fibers (as GLaDOS would say, “liquid thing goes in, solid thing comes out”). The results were tiny, non-woven fabrics on which we would grow cardiovascular tissue.

Inspired by our familiarity with producing these tiny fabrics, we used some metal chopsticks from our kitchen and a cheap power supply to generate an electric field. With basic materials we were able to create (an admittedly crude) proof-of-concept. … (read more)