Panel: Bio-fabrication and Materials of the Future

all right so I’ve seen many of you in a
number of different venues over the last two days and so I’m really excited to be
here in a number of different capacities as you know I’m Karen Pearson and I
co-chair the sustainability Council and we are so excited to have had all of you
on campus to discuss innovation and sustainability across all of the
disciplines so not just science but art and business as well so we really
appreciate your engagement and continued engagement in this discussion and we
hope for many more discussions of this nature so this afternoon I am here in
the capacity of moderator for our lovely and esteemed panel of scientists
designers and business leaders so I’m gonna briefly introduce them but then
I’m really gonna let them introduce themselves and talk about their work and
talk about how they found the ability through unique pathways for innovation
and collaboration and the aspect of new materials and in particular in some
cases biomaterials so we have Deborah Berger Deborah burger from chargers Gary
helada who is from Stony Brook University and the–and sharrows who is
here from fi t– would you please introduce yourself and tell us a little
bit about your background and how you actually had the opportunity to work in
this space of new materials and new fibers with pleasure good afternoon
everybody I’m very honored to be here today to talk about innovation and
sustainability so I’m from France Paris and I work at shushers which is this is
a little note isn’t it okay thanks and so Scherzer’s is a French company
specialized in technical textiles and I work in the wool business so you’re
going to say wool why have that a material of the future it’s been used
for thousands of years by men and it’s definitely not a new material
but I’m going to talk about wool and blockchain technology we developed a
Chargers a eco traceable wool label which is called organic a precious fiber
and we decided to use blockchain technology to make it more traceable and
transparent and I’m going to explain to you how this works what I think is also
of interest maybe to some of the students in the audience is that I’m
actually an outsider in the textile industry I worked in finance for many
years and after having my second daughter I needed more meaning to my
career and so I completely shifted careers and I met the CEO of the shadows
group who talked to me about wool and he told me that he thought that the world
division had a lot of potential and that we needed to develop it with new
technologies and new concepts and he’s a great believer in sustainability the
shadows groups is a signal signature of the UN Global Compact and so he told me
there’s a lot to develop in terms of sustainability would you like to join
and I found the project absolutely amazing and that’s how I joined almost
two years ago and I’ve been very happy ever since so this just to say that you
can shift careers at any time and do something that makes more sense to you
at any time and I think I’m sort of an example so what did we do with wool
we’re we produce calm rule which is the rule that you give to the spinner to
make yarn so it’s the first step of wool processing after the shearing of the
sheep and what happened was that we were already working with a lot of ethical
and responsible growers but we were selling the wool at the commodity market
level price and the competition was becoming harder and harder and we were
dying slowly dying and we’re thinking but there’s a lot of
brands who want to buy sustainable and ethical wool and they can’t find it so
why don’t we create a label and have it backed by technology so that’s what we
did we created our own internal label which is organic a precious fiber and we
used all of the existing requirements from all the existing protocols and made
it even better with other kinds of requirements so we are RWS compliant
some of you may know our WS it’s responsible wool standard by textile
exchange and in addition to that we brought social responsibility meaning
that there is of course no child labor allowed that we respect a minimum wage
for the workers that we respect the workers work condition and everything
and we added to that an extra layer which is blockchain technology I’m going
to tell you a little bit more about that because I think that’s the real
innovative part of what we did we our protocol is audited by a third party
which is called control Union and this is very important because of course
we’re not the ones auditing all our production chain they audit our farmers
they audit our mills they audit all the different the different parts of the
chain and we thought that’s great but that’s not enough we’re making all this
effort to work with very ethical growers ethical workers we have all those
requirement to animal welfare the environment social responsibility but
people are getting a bit tired of the green washing and they don’t always
believe that you did what you did because of course some brands can
sometimes be a bit exaggerating their commitment so we thought how can we make
it completely transparent and auditable by the final customer and what is the
easiest tool you have for technology back to proof it’s your mobile phone
right everybody has a by phone so we thought how can we make
it completely transparent which technology could help us and that’s how
blockchain technology came up because blockchain is completely unfair viable
and it’s a technology that enables you to put a lot of data completely secured
into a chain what is very powerful with blockchain is that there are different
steps into our blockchain and each step is validated by two independent players
for instance the delivery say the delivery of wool from the farmer to the
coming mill the our system is going to send a text message to the farmer asking
did you send five tons of organic a precious fiber wool to the comic mill on
X date and then the system is going to send an email to the comic mill asking
if they did receive the same quantity of wool on that exact date and if both
answer yes then it validates one step of the blockchain and it moves on to the
second step of the blockchain which means that even if we wanted to hack the
chain and enter all the false information we couldn’t because it’s
based on so many independent players that we would have to like hack the
farmers phone hack the email of the comic mill representative and and so on
so it’s completely impossible and then all this information is presented to the
final customer via an app which is log to the blockchain and the final customer
can see all the steps of the chain from the sheep to the shop and they can see
where the farm is located they can see where the coming mill was and they can
access all the information on the audit certificates so I very much believe that
transparency is going to be the way forward in terms of sustainability I
think that today’s customers they accept that nobody is perfect and that they can
understand that but what they don’t want is to be told lies or to be told
false information so we’re not saying we’re perfect we still have a lot of
things to improve that through transparency I think we’re
moving a little bit further for the whole system excellent thank you so much
that was very interesting to hear how you could transform and collaborate
along those steps so Gary would you tell us a little bit about the work you’ve
been doing at Stony Brook and collaborations you’ve also had with fi T
and the partnerships with actually designed so different disciplines as
well so I can just yell you don’t need when I teach my class I wake everybody
up the I’m in the Department of material science and Chemical Engineering and so
my philosophy approaching any type of research project is really the
philosophy of material science which is how you build that connection between
structure properties you know performance and processing and so that’s
really very much what a lot of what we’re talking about you know concerns
how do you you know what happens when you recycle a material I was listening
to the talk earlier today about how recycled you know polymers become
brittle or less strong and so that can introduce microfibers into the
environment all these are very interesting questions to me because I
approach everything in that way and also this even what you were talking about
with trying to trace the processing we have a big cybersecurity effort and one
of the centers that I run right now is a Center in ed of manufacturing materials
prot and processing and one of the ideas is building in that sort of blockchain
technology into the printing itself so you can trace objects once they’re
printed so yeah all these things have have good connections but so you know
kind of how how I you know became so involved in these collaborations I’m
very interested in sort of building you know
building out collaborations with other institutions I’ve worked with many other
colleges on all sorts of projects and in energy and environmental issues I’ve
been involved in an Department of Energy work on hazardous waste remediation so
I’ve always had a strong environmental interest as well as just the work that I
do on the interaction of materials with the environment my my education my
background was in rust I’m a rust ologist and corrosion is all about how
things live with the world around them and how they change
I actually find corrosion very interesting I’ve worked with an artist
whose studies corrosion and the changing changing materials changing metals how
they how they slowly change with time and the environment and where the
artistic aspects of that are and it’s very it’s exciting to me to work with
artists for example and so when our uh our Dean our Dean photos Sotiropoulos in
engineering at Stony Brook I think he made contact with the president of MIT
and and they decided that you know let’s start looking for ways that we can start
to interact and collaborate and we had a couple get together as a couple meetings
and met people and learn what each other did and just I’m very interested in this
sort of stuff so I try to you know get in the middle of it as much as I can and
so we started a very nice collaboration looking at recycling of of cotton
material and in a green way I mean there’s other ways you can recycle and
break down the material that use very harsh chemicals high temperatures lots
of water all things you don’t want to do necessarily so can we find new ways
using the tools of material science and engineering and this is I really like
this project too because I’m always looking at projects that get students
excited and a lot of the projects in engineering well I’m looking and working
on microstructure on printed steels that’s okay or I’m looking you know but
you know or yeah let’s let’s go city dirt and rust I spend all my time
looking at dirt and rust and you know there’s some students who really get
into that they find it very exciting I worry about them
but from anyway but from my you know but to talk to them about something that has
real societal impact we talk about social social justice yeah socially
responsible design I actually at one point I started a design award for
socially responsible design for our senior design students and where they
won this fantastic piece of paper which is I didn’t have any funding so that was
what they want that said they’re socially responsible but anyway it was a
very nice thing and also i you know enabled me to write nice recommendation
letters for them when they went on to look at graduate programs but in any
case the in all aspects of kind of what we do as academics and their place like
Stony Brook you know those I don’t know how many of you have
any of you ever been to Stony Brook University tons of you that’s great
alright I’m embarrassed now I know that’s fantastic and in we you know we
work closely also with Brookhaven National Laboratory which is right down
the road from us but you know it’s a big research type University and students
who go there if they’re just go there and study coursework and then you know
try to hide and escape they don’t gain all the value of being at a university
like that so I try to get them involved in the research and to have projects
like this where there’s a real impact on the world you know that we’ve had people
working on projects on microplastics that find their way into the into the
environment we have people working on I was mentioning before there’s students
who developed a fabric to prevent the spread of bed bugs and things like that
so anything that has something that you can hook to the news or to to some real
you know very important real world application really helps me get students
involved and it’s part of my interest in an area refer to usually as value
sensitive design and I teach value sensitive design the idea that anything
that you see in the world around you chairs and tables and floors and clothes
and everything else has embedded within it not just materials and and physics
and chemistry and technology but also has the values of the people who made it
and designed it and so the question is can we how can we introduce more
positive values into the design of things and I
try to bring that to students and throughout our traditional engineering
disciplines and I find that to be to be very important and this last thing I’ll
say about that as well as if there are students here who would like to come out
learn a little bit more about what we do it’s not this is not a recruitment spiel
this is just I mean you come out for a week a day if you want to learn a little
bit about the technologies I I use you know surface science technologies we
synchrotron technologies we both do but there is there’s a lot of different
interesting technologies at work and just even if you don’t have a broad
background I have to say I’m one of the only material science PhDs I know who
never took a college chemistry course me you always – uh I it’s spreading so and
I always say that that keeps me pure because I don’t know anything and so I
you know I approach chemistry with a sense of wonder in awe and confusion
which enables me to see all sorts of fantastic things that happen in the real
world but anyway I’m just saying that whatever your background is and you
don’t have to be have a lot of science background if you’d like to learn more
you like to find out a few things do a little research get involved in a
project I have projects with twenty thirty students involved at all
different levels of education you know just contact me and we see what we can
do excellent thank you I’d like to follow up just briefly if you talked a
little bit about the opportunity for the students in your lab on this last
project in green chemistry were you looking at that to work with designers
because you had the opportunity not just to have a scientist or a set of
scientists look at a problem in that room you also have the opportunity to
talk about that problem with a group of designers can you talk
about the value that that brought to thinking about how you are going to
approach and solve the problem it’s it’s it’s incredibly valuable it’s incredibly
valuable especially you know if you think about it you know who-who
accredits all the engineering programs around this is a bet accreditation board
if you go to an engineering college it has to be a bit– accredited and
that one of the things one of their objectives there’s their student
objectives that they require is that you have a multidisciplinary approach to
engineering design which means not that you have an electrical engineer a
mechanical engineer and a biomedical engineer and a computer scientist
working together but that you have end-users stakeholders you have people
involved who are going to use things later on I mean to get to get design
projects together where there is a designer or someone who’s in the fashion
industry or any in the area or even in the textile industry that can you know
that can show them what’s important and though the whole point of this is
determining what’s important and when you design something you can understand
the chemistry and the physics but that’s you know if that’s all you understand
you’re a computer you know you’re a male maybe you’re a very creative computer
but you’re a computer and you once you start to see what’s actually important
about something whether it’s socially responsible design or whether it’s
something that can actually be used or can actually make an impact on the
design industry of the fashion industry that that’s what brings the real value
to an education so that’s why I like to see it excellent thank you
now at the end you’ve had the opportunity over the last four years or
five years creeping on five okay but you’ve had a real opportunity to partner
with not just scientists with designers students who are designers students who
are business leaders and faculty who really had never set foot in a lab and
in that space you’ve really created some really unique materials and designs
could you talk a little bit about some of those projects and some of the
excitement that that brings to you as a scientist and where you believe that
leads us to future possibilities in materials so I should say the reason
that I never took a high school of college chemistry course is because I
did art history for my liberal arts degree before doing a PhD in Chemical
Physics so my first chemistry class was in graduate school and it was
theoretical quantum chemistry that’s where I started so but
that said that really speaks to this idea that there’s so many different
places to arrive at this intersection well that so that kind of is a little
bit about what brought me here today and you know I am art historian turned
chemical physicist but really I think my unofficial biography is that I’m a
delusional optimist with a deep love for nature and it’s processes and community
and I think that really has been a driving force that’s kind of steered me
through this what seems like a strange path so I switched from art to science
because I wanted to work on renewable energy technology so I like Gary I did
my PhD at a particle accelerator looking at how to split water with sunlight to
make hydrogen as a fuel etc but when I was in the lab at Stanford in Colombia
everything we were doing was very exciting but it was kind of 10 years
from being scale to commercialization so yes we want to power the inner planet
with solar and hydrogen solar fuels but as many of my students here know now
they know what chemistry fraud that taught them in chemistry ah the next ten
years are gonna determine the next 10,000 so the opportunity five years ago
that presented itself to be a professor of science and sustainability at MIT was
super exciting because now here was a whole different set of impacts and a
whole different set of conversations and a whole different space for innovation
into innovation at the intersection of so many fields that is what needs to
happen to drive change and true sustainability and you know following
nature’s processes and implementing them into place so um a lot of my lovely
colleagues are here asta schoo Sierra from fashion design was kind of my first
design major design partner when we came together and make with students in the
first bio design challenge to develop a kelp based bio yarn and this was these
were all these things that this is fi T is such a special place because you can
just try you can just explore right if your science project fails no one’s
really watching you and if it’s great but it’s great great and that is really
the space that I think also is cultivated here for learning so within
that space we were able to do these kind of we were able to daydream and see if
it worked and you know sometimes that’s all you that and the right team and the
right skill set and a little bit of delusional optimism is what it takes to
make it work so we have turned kelp into yarn we have made fabric that doesn’t
catch on fire bacterial leather using Native American
tanning techniques it is water resistant flame retardant to a 3,000 degree flame
and strong and flexible can be machine stitched we’ve made materials out of
fungal mycelium grown to shape zero waste in the production phase and this
last year we went really out on a limb every year we get weird think and so
this last year we were looking for animal free wool this was a Stella
McCartney PETA challenge for animal free well and that’s really hard
I mean wool is a very very there’s a reason you know it’s this ancient fiber
but it’s a performance fiber it has a strange structure of the very specific
structure it’s coaxial layers of different proteins and so you know kind
of just resynthesizing that was not going to happen in you know with the set
the resources we had here so we kind of set out to say whoa if we want to make a
performance protein fiber and this is where we were tackling this big issue of
micro plastics performance fibers are generally reliant on petrochemicals and
animals products those are two of the most co2 producing industries in the
world the most ethical issues the biggest environmental polluters so we
thought well protein nature has this huge array of performance and function
it’s absolutely fantastic and you can never even unravel the layers I mean I
think we here look at least my work is really filled by learning from nature so
we thought you know nature has all these proteins that you know casseon from milk
is naturally you could make a waterproof textile what if we could translate the
function of the proteins that drive everything in our body and everything
our world around us into performance fibres weird right so it turns out you
and we did so we took cheek swabs extracted tubulin protein from it’s an
all our your cheek swabs it didn’t your goldfish it’s in your in aunt Tilly
it’s in a dog and we did this with a number of different proteins and
ultimately we really were and we were able to translate this into a fiber
using enzymes but then we really kind of went out on the limb and you’re a color
you know the dye industry is so toxic what if we could and then we looked to
nature so when studying the effects of the fashion industry on the ocean coral
bleaching ocean acidification carbon emissions you looked you see all that
loss of amazing color and that amazing color in the ocean and from luminescent
creatures he’s not due to pigment or dyes or a fraction of light it is due to
a protein that gives it its its color so one of our teammates Sebastian Koch over
from bio namaka have self-taught bio hacker was on a diving trip and he
sampled a cell oneself from the bleach side of a red fluorescent portal we
brought it back to the lab and we tried to carry out our mission we sequenced
the DNA we found the amino acid responsible for the red fluorescent
protein we were able to engineer it and express it in bacteria in the lab make
tons of it and then we used some enzymes and actually went from a protein in one
cell to a pink fluorescent fiber and this was three textile development
students a strange chemical physicist a biohacker right and so of course there
was a community supporting us there was a community around us we were asking
questions but this speculative future became a prototype oh really over the
course of about eight weeks and so I think this special community here and
the openness for people to get out of their silos and learn from each other is
really at the heart of the dynamic interactions that lead to innovations in
sustainability on how we can really shape the future
with materials using socially responsible methods that are well
quantified at every step of the process ensuring that we are in fact offering
equality and social justice along the pathway to an actual product I think
that is a very important key to how we talk about fibers and materials that are
shaping our future but what I hear from all of you is that there’s a huge amount
of power in collaboration and not worrying so much that you were trained
or prepared in a very specific way but more being open to learning and
problem-solving and being curious and asking questions is that a fair summary
of what you all really shared with us about your journeys and thinking in
materials of the future I get an affirmative yes from all of them I think
something that is really uplifting and something that we’ve learned people
think you know there’s this idea that sustainability is really limiting right
you can’t do things to be sustainable but I think you can prefer to think of
it as expansive like there’s more possible protein combinations for
performance fibers and stars in the galaxy there’s more things you could
never have thought of who would have thought Native American techniques on
bacterial cellulose would make a you know animal free leather with
performance properties I think it’s really exciting to be at that interface
think of a real problem address it together and think of it as an expanse
of space where your that creativity can take you completely outside your silo
and comfort zone I think that’s true and as I disclosed earlier I’m a chemist by
trade and so I look at these problems and what I really hear is that we’re
using studies of properties and materials that maybe we didn’t think of
in the space of sustainable or biomaterials to help us inform and look
back a second time at nature for additional inspiration because we’re
talking about nanomaterials optical fibers these are the things that were
largely made in the lab and that we’re really all people in our fields we’re
talking about especially in the 80s and 90s is that fair and today we’re
looking at taking these really cool things it did some really great things
and provided us lots of future especially in the communications
industry but can we use some of those techniques and what we’ve learned in
that space to inform how we make new materials that do new things that are
now inspired by nature and therefore leave less of a carbon footprint I think
in addition to just looking at other fields and being inspired by them
one thing that I’ve discovered in many cases is the need to go back and look at
old research and that’s actually something that students tend not to do
if they if a paper was written before 2010 they think well that’s not modern
anymore but I’m learning more from the stuff that was written in the 1950s in
1940’s and before that maybe they didn’t have the tools to understand what was
going on but there is hints there’s hints in there and so I think it’s just
it’s not only looking at other fields but looking at greater depth within your
own field and I know it’s a daunting task but you know we have certainly have
the tools submitted to to work with massive amounts of data which is a huge
benefit today and know that you’re familiar with these that this these you
know analytical techniques now that can generate so much data that you have to
use machine learning to try to find out the secrets that are hiding inside of it
and and that’s getting us to a point where maybe we can start to do some
experiments that were hinted at a long time ago but never really made sense
because it would have taken too much effort and too long that inspiration
comes from really unexpected places it’s Boston I had a moment this morning would
be like and we had this we shared this thought about the cotton recycling
project and there’s some of these really innovative ideas that wind up wound up
working out scientifically was you know I one of my suggested one pathway and my
student was Danny Esposito said why don’t we do it this way and I was like
cuz you’re a genius and I’m an idiot I never I had this overly complicated idea
of how it should be done and she had this like
super simple idea that worked really really well and then you know we were
able to characterize it together because we had the science tools but I think
staying that expansive space of open-mindedness and looking for
inspiration I loved what the was said in the panel this morning that when you’re
designing something you should think about the end at the beginning so at the
beginning of your design think about the end because there shouldn’t it should be
a circle so I really liked some of these a lot of the different pieces from this
conference a lot of the work going on in circular economy is not in this country
I mean I I’ve been I review proposals from around the world and I just the
amount of this work going on in Italy right now in South Korea and other
places I mean there’s tremendous inspiration from there so you have to
take a very global perspective as well I have to say that a lot of my inspiration
for things to do comes from my students I mean they’re they’re kicking my butt
all the time I want to do this I want to do that okay I’ll try to find you some
money or something let’s that’s it I mean I wouldn’t even touch 3d printing
if I hadn’t had the students show up my lab one day from SUNY New Paltz I was
gonna have work on nanoparticles he said I don’t want to do that I said what do
you want he said we’ll just got some 3d printers up here let’s do some what so
then all of a sudden we started doing all sorts of experiments with those and
learning about them but I like to take my cues from the students at least and
and my wife reads a lot of fashion magazines so it’s basically she she’s
the one who pushes me into a lot of things as well because she you know she
reads about these things that I would never see normally so all the Biodesign
projects were student driven I mean you know the students graduate and move on
and often stay working on the on the projects but they are really really
student driven projects and a lot of it is kind of like let me find you some
money or connect you to someone who knows if you know it’s it’s kind of a
it’s really a support role where you off you you have a bigger picture of what’s
available but I think we should take a moment and give our students a hand
because you guys are really the drivers of the change so thank you

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