FIT Wins the First Biodesign Challenge

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-12-05-09-pmImagine a future when textiles can be grown in a laboratory, worn, and returned to the soil to grow more textiles instead of ending up in a landfill. A team of FIT students took a step toward that future with an innovative project that won the first Biodesign Challenge, a competition in which students from nine leading U.S. colleges and universities created projects that envision future applications of biotechnology. Themes for the projects included architecture, water, food, materials, energy, medicine, and other areas where biological design could make a dramatic difference.

The FIT team comprised three students from the Fashion Design program’s knitwear specialization—Tessa Callaghan, Gian Cui, and Aleksandra Gosiewski—and Aaron Nesser, who studies at Pratt Institute. With support from faculty in the sciences and design, they beat teams from top schools including University of Pennsylvania, New York University, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

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For their winning project, FIT’s team created a material out of alginate (made from algae) and chitosan (made from fungi), extruded it from a syringe as a filament, and knitted this “yarn” into fabric. The team spent months experimenting with different formulas for the biomaterial, curious to see how much it would stretch. They tested an early version of the knitted filament in FIT’s textile testing labs, where they discovered, to their surprise, that it stretched 70 percent beyond its original length. They also customized a 3D printer to make a mesh version, which stretched 50 percent.

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The resulting textile, though not ready for production, represents a nascent step toward a closed-loop life-cycle system for fashion, as the fabric is not only biodegradable but could be used as a nutrient for growing more materials.

FIT’s Center for Continuing and Professional Studies offers courses in textile science, sustainable design, and myriad other fields in the creative industries. View courses and register at fitnyc.edu/continuing-ed.

Caption: The winning team of Callaghan, Nesser, Cui, and Gosiewski. Nesser holds the Glass Microbe, a fist-sized translucent trophy that symbolizes the intersection of art, design, and biology.

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