Living Materials Library

Sunanda Sharma and Bianca Datta

The control of living systems as part of design interfaces is of interest to both the scientific and design communities due to the ability of living organisms to sense and respond to their environments. They may, for example, detect and break down harmful environmental agents, or create beneficial products when environmental levels dropped below a certain threshold. However, it is also important for these systems to be reversible, so that the biological components are only active when their functionality is necessary, and the system can remain dormant otherwise. 

The Living Material Library is an exploration of tunable hybrid systems. Our work in this area demonstrates the means through which intrinsic material properties may be functionally changed through environmental factors and, in turn, serve as dynamic substrates for living systems. Nearly all organisms have highly developed sensing capabilities, and have been shown to behaviorally respond to changes in substrate properties. By creating a tunable and reversible material system, we explore how cell behavior such as adhesion, patterning, and differentiation may be influenced via an active interface.

In this iteration, we propose a reversible material system that allows for control of living interactions (much like a light switch). We are particularly interested in fluid material systems (such as electrorheological fluids) that transition from a liquid-like to a solid-like state when exposed to electric fields and currents. 

This endeavor brings to light the complex relationship between dynamic materials and living systems. While other methods of cell intervention often rely on light, chemicals, or temperature, here we explore substrate material properties as inputs for organisms.  Our library may allow for more directed inquiry into processes such as collective cell durotaxis, general mechanotaxis, and active sensing. This marks an initial foray into establishing candidate design methods for responsive applications.

Research Topics