Material Connexion

Material Connexion is a great resource for learning about the newest, most innovative materials that have properties and applications beyond our imagination. Coming from my fashion and textile science background, I was immediately drawn to textiles. To my surprise however, the ones I found most intriguing are ones grown and harvested from natural materials and processes.

These are my favorites:

Artificilae Matter by MUUNA are a collection of samples where crystals are grown onto woven and embroidered textiles to create mineral surfaces of ‘cultivated embellishment.’ This reminded me of my childhood when I grew sugar and salt crystals in petri dishes for a science fair project. It’s not uncommon to see crystals as embellishments, but often they are applied by sewing or with adhesives, which is both labor intensive and expensive. Growing crystals is such an obvious and elegant solution.

Bioleather by Thainanocellulose Co. Ltd. is a leather alternative made from bacterial cellulose. It is produced as a secretion from bacteria that is fed pineapple juice in a warm bath. The result is a thick and flexible material with a lovely iridescence when held against light.

Bioyarn by Algiknit is a compostable yarn knitted into a bio-based textile made from alginate, a readily abundant biopolymer extracted from kelp. Its semi-translucent color and rigid, rubbery texture is a sharp contrast to properties we conventionally associate with knitted textiles — warmth and softness. I tried reaching out to them for a sample because I noticed they are based in New York City, but they responded they have very limited quantities.

Slug Actuator

This week, I decided to draw inspiration from the slug to cast my first silicone actuator. The idea is to create channels of little pouches that act as feet on two separate layers, then use solenoids to inflate one channel and deflate the other to mimic the undulating movements of the slug:

This is the illustrator file I created to laser-cut my acrylic mold.  It uses the same method of XYZAidan’s flat pneumatic actuators of casting multiple layers and spraying mold release to create the air channels.

1st Layer

2nd Layer

Unfortunately, it did not work as well as I anticipated. The stencil for the 2nd and 3rd layers did not fit snug when I was spraying the mold release so the air pockets were not as defined as I liked. When I attempted to test pumping air into it, the channel ripped slightly and I could feel the air escaping from the sides.

For a future iteration, I want to make a more stable mold and extend the edges so the layers can adhere better and air cannot escape.


Special thanks to Chester Dols for helping me refine my idea & understand molding techniques and Nitish for help with Illustrator.

Banana Slugs

I played with snails and slugs in my backyard growing up. I took them into the house, put them in my palms and small boxes, prodded and poked at them, and could watch them for hours creating narratives in my head. I even tried to bring them on a family vacation once. My mom was not a fan.

In sixth grade, my class went on a week-long camping trip to the Redwood forests. It was love at first sight when I saw this majestic creature slowly glide itself along the forest floor. What I find most interesting about banana slugs (slugs in general) are their fluid movement facilitated by their slimy secretions. They can move across rough terrains (albeit rather slowly) and the slime can function as both a lubricant and adhesive. Slime also absorbs water and is recyclable. I can see the properties of slime incorporated with soft robotics to facilitate movement, leave trails, and collect and absorb whatever comes in their path.