The team, from the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), created a 3D-printable material that can be “pre-programmed with reversible shape memory.” The wool-like material can remember old forms and shapeshift bank into those, or transform into many shapes when a certain stimulus is applied.
It is made out of keratin gotten from recycled wool. Keratin is a fibrous protein that’s found in hair, which, of course, has a habit of morphing to its natural form.
In one test, researchers programmed a sheet of keratin to have an origami star as its permanent shape. They dipped the sheet into the water to make it malleable and rolled it into a tube. But when the team put that tube in the water again, it unfolded and returned to its original star.
The researchers believe the material could help reduce waste in the fashion industry. They suggested it could be used for truly one-sized-fits all clothing that stretches to fit the wearer or bras “whose cup size and shape can be customized every day.” Consumers could save as well if they don’t have to replace stretched-out clothes quite so soon.
“This two-step process of 3D printing the material and then setting its permanent shapes allows for the fabrication of really complex shapes with structural features down to the micron level,” Luca Cera said in a press release. “This makes the material suitable for a vast range of applications from textile to tissue engineering.”