SEAS researchers develop a textile that can change and remember its shape

Hair will bounce back into curls the minute it touches water. Why? Because the hair has shape memory. Its material properties allow it to change shape. What if other materials, especially textiles, had the memory of this sort of shape?

Harvard researchers have created a material that is bio compatible that can be 3D printed in any manner. For the production of the material used is Keratin, a fibrous protein present in fur, nails, and shells. The study may enable the fashion industry to minimize waste.

With this project, they have shown that not only can we recycle wool but we can build things out of the recycled wool that has never been imagined before, said Kit Parker, the Tarr Family Professor of Bio engineering and Applied Physics at SEAS and senior author of the paper on the subject published in Nature Materials. “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.”

The key to the shape shift capacities of keratin is its organizational nature. It arranges a single keratin chain into a spring-like structure known as alpha-helix. The spring mechanisms uncoil and realign to form stable beta-sheets when extended or exposed to a given stimulus. The fiber stays in that role until coiling back into its original form is activated.