Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) researchers have developed a wool-like biocompatible material that can be 3D-printed into any shape and then pre-programmed with reversible shape memory. It’s made of keratin, a fibrous protein found in hair, nails and shells. This protein was extracted from leftover Agora wool used in textile manufacturing, and these findings could one day help the broader effort of reducing waste in the fashion industry. Read more for a video and additional information.
How does it change shape? Once a fiber is stretched or exposed to a particular stimulus, the spring-like structures uncoil, and the bonds realign to form stable beta-sheets. It remains in that position until it is triggered to coil back into its original shape. For demonstration purposes, the researchers 3D-printed keratin sheets in a variety of shapes and then programmed the material’s permanent shape using hydrogen peroxide and monosodium phosphate.
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With this project, we have shown that not only can we recycle wool but we can build things out of the recycled wool that have never been imagined before. The implications for the sustainability of natural resources are clear. With recycled keratin protein, we can do just as much, or more, than what has been done by shearing animals to date and, in doing so, reduce the environmental impact of the textile and fashion industry,” said Kit Parker, the Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics at SEAS and senior author of the paper.