Organic primitives for sensing and actuating biopolymer composites


Emma Vargo, Viirj Kan


Viirj Kan, Emma Vargo, Noa Machover, David Kong, Yasuaki Kakehi, Serena Pan, Hiroshi Ishii

Author Affiliation: 

MIT Media Lab, MIT Materials sciences and engineering, MIT Lincoln Lab


Biomolecules often respond to environmental stimuli in ways that make them excellent sensors and actuators. These molecules also respond to each other in intriguing ways when used in combination. This combinability has informed our study of three Organic Primitives, biopolymer combinations that react to pH by distinctly changing either color, scent, or shape. We begin by studying how the three Primitives respond to the environment separately, and then analyze the augmented responses of composites made of these materials. These sensors and actuators are safe for contact with food or skin, and biodegrade at the end of their useful life. These materials can be combined and refined for applications in food safety, cosmetics, healthcare, art, and science education. Though this study focuses on pH-reactive materials, we believe the idea of Organic Primitives may be expanded into a library of sensing and actuating biopolymers, which could be combined based on the desired applications.