What’s Biodegradable, Made By Worms, 3D Printing and MIT Geniuses? The Silk Pavilion, Of Course

3D printing

3D printing got quite a slimy upgrade when researchers at MIT (where else?) employed 6,500 silkworms to help create a dome guided by computer technology.

The worms were unleashed onto 26 panels fitted with a string of silk thread and then guided by spatial and environmental cues. Changing the light and heat as well as the geometric density, MIT’s Media Lab professor Neri Oxman and her team were able to direct the silkworms and influence the outcome in the first 3D printing experiment using living creatures. “They swarmed over the structure’s surface and spun silk threads that ultimately created a dome that was equal parts Buckminster Fuller and Charlotte’s Web,” reported Wired.

Oxman and her team say the experiment with these “MakerBugs” offers many benefits, “The silkworm embodies everything an additive fabrication system currently lacks,” says Oxman. “It jets a structural material with superior function-specific variable properties; it’s small in size and mobile in movement; and it can spin, rather than print, non-homogeneous fibrous structures without waste. In more than one way, a silkworm is a sophisticated multi-material, multi-axis 3D printer.”

As well, the use of silkworms is more environmentally friendly than other building materials, reports Wired: “[T]he worms transform White Mulberry leaves into building material, their creations biodegrade over time, and when the job is done the worms turn into moths and fly away, leaving enough eggs behind to create approximately 250 more structures.”

The Silk Pavilion’s success shows potential for more architectural structures as well as advances in fashion design and relief efforts—being implemented in natural disaster areas to build temporary shelters could be one of the most exciting applications. “The project speculates about the possibility in the future to implement a biological swarm approach to 3D printing,” said Oxman. “Google is for information what swarm manufacturing may one day become for design fabrication.”

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Image: dezeen

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.