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This Self-Ventilating Workout Suit Uses Microbes To Keep You Cool

Sports gear has come a long way since the days of heavy cotton shorts and flat canvas basketball shoes. Today's performance fabric is designed to wick sweat and keep you cool, which makes exercise a lot more pleasant. A team of MIT researchers have now done sports gear one better: they've made a self-ventilating workout suit that actually responds to your sweat and body heat. How did they do it? Live microbial cells.

Before exercise (left), vents in workout suit are flat; after exercise (right), the ventilation flaps are curved open.

Don't Sweat It

You heard us right: the suit contains microorganisms. The suit is 3D-printed using a process that allows these little critters to be printed onto sheets of natural latex. There, they help a series of flaps shrink and expand in response to how hard you're working. The flaps range in size from thumbnail- to finger-sized, depending on how much heat and sweat its particular area of the body gives off. "People may think heat and sweat are the same, but in fact, some areas like the lower spine produce lots of sweat but not much heat," co-author Lining Yao says in a press release. "We redesigned the garment using a fusion of heat and sweat maps to, for example, make flaps bigger where the body generates more heat."

It may seem odd to have a bunch tiny living things all over your gym clothes, but don't worry: it is completely safe for humans to come in contact with it. When co-author Wen Wang tried the suit on herself, she exclaimed, "It felt like I was wearing an air conditioner on my back." Eat your heart out, Iron Man.

The researchers also used this technology in a shoe. This illustration demonstrates the biohybrid flaps on the shoe sole.
Changing cell size and cellular fluorescence due to moisture change.

Better Biceps Thanks To Bugs

Because they are so easy to produce rapidly with biotechnology, the researchers plan to collaborate with sportswear companies in the near future to commercialize their designs and create a range of athletic attire that will be available to the public consumer. That means that in as little as a few years we might all be a little more comfortable during gym days and outdoor workouts, all thanks to tiny microorganisms.

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Written by Sam Suarez June 9, 2017

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