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Growing Patterns

Text: Emmie Knoester Media: Bart Bolluijt Graphics: Alain van de Ven

It started with a walk across the campus looking for inspiration in nature. By the end of the semester Iris, Noa, Katelijn and Kamile found themselves building a lab setting and growing bacteria. How this design research project inspired by biomimicry unravel during one semester and even continue after?

A challenging start

The group started with a common interest in biomimicry as they explain ‘the design and production of materials, structures and systems that are inspired by biological entities and processes’. “We gathered all kind of plants and tried wearing these. We imagined what it would be like if the plants actually grew on your body. This is how we got the idea of growing gardens on human bodies and the seed for our project was planted.” A drive in the project was to develop alternative techniques for the now polluting fashion industry. “We found out about pigment-producing bacteria that are capable of dyeing things with no chemicals and only small amount of water. This opened up a whole new world for us.”

However, the beginning of the project was tough as they experienced resistance by the scientific world. “In the first month the project was in deep stagnation, we had no bacteria and no lab to work in.” With help from their coaches, they got in contact with digital fabrication expert Cecilia Raspanti and got their first petri dish with bacteria. Being kept off by all labs they contacted, they decided to continue the project in a self-built lab. “With the help from Cecilia and students from Wageningen, we were able to teach ourselves in the biological subject. During these consults and long evenings of research we learned how to treat the bacteria and use all the lab equipment.”

Testing with bacteria growth

The development process included many different tests, techniques and tools. “First, we learned to dye fabrics with bacteria to be confident in dyeing all the fabrics we chose. Later, we thought about controlling the way the bacteria grow by influencing their environment. We used batik techniques with antimicrobial and bacteria stimulating materials, digital fabrication techniques and heat experiments to control the bacterial grow in certain areas on the fabric and stop or reduce their growth in other areas. This resulted in techniques that allowed us to make the bacteria grow in patterns. Finally, we analyzed the techniques and concluded which had the most potential to be developed further.”

Focus on feasibility

As icing on the cake, the Growing Patterns project exhibited at both the Dutch Design week and Munich Fabric Start. “We got in contact with some companies interested in collaboration. By means of experimenting with new materials, we want to bring the research closer to the market.” They stress the importance of networking and how much it took them further. “Companies are also looking for ways to innovate their products and are open to listen to your crazy ideas.”

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