A novel material that can absorb contaminants from polluted water is the basis of the 3D-printed swimsuit that won the Reshape15 Wearable Technology design competition.
The material in question is called “Sponge,” and it’s created by heating up sucrose. While its interior structure is full of holes, it’s also super-hydrophobic, meaning it repels water. As a result, it can suck in 25 times its own weight in contaminants, holding them inside the material and away from the skin.
Once full, the contaminants can be released by heating the material to above 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,832 degrees Fahrenheit). At this temperature, the material melts and can then be filtered and cooled into solid form agai–amazingly, this process can be repeated up to 20 times without the material losing its absorbency.
Sponge was invented by Mihri Ozkan, an electrical engineering professor at the University of California, Riverside. She began developing it four years ago, with the help of her husband, Cengiz Ozkan, and two Ph.D. students, Daisy Patino and Hamed Bay. The goal was to create a substance that could be used in cleaning up oil or chemical spills, or for desalinating water. “This is a super material that is not harmful to the environment and very cost-effective to produce,” said Ozkan.
The idea to create a swimsuit out of the material came from Pinar Guvenc, Inanc Eray, and Gonzalo Carbajo, who work at architecture and design firm Eray Carbajo. They visited Ozkan Labs and collaborated with researchers there to create the best blueprint for the suit, in terms of efficiency and strength.
The final design calls for Sponge pads to be inserted into a 3D-printed frame made from elastomers that conform to the shape of the body. “This special material has the necessary flexibility to fit the body and the sufficient strength to encapsulate the filler material,” they wrote in a description of the swimsuit.
The resulting bikini weighs just shy of two ounces, with a thickness of less than a tenth of an inch, and the wearable portion is reusable over a long period of time. It’s cheap to make, too–the main ingredient of Sponge is sugar, so it costs about $4.25 per ounce to fabricate. The team says a similar principle could be applied to bathing suits or swimming caps as well.
“SpongeSuit is a preliminary effort to create an actively eco-conscious wearable technology,” wrote the swimsuit’s designers. “We aim for a future where everyone, with any shape and form of swimming outfit, can contribute to the cleanliness of the seas by a sports activity or simply a leisurely summer vacation.”
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