Design Is [Curious] – Morphing Matter: Curiosity-driven Research

[MUSIC PLAYING] SARAH WILSON: Hi, everyone My name’s Sarah Wilson I’m a designer here at Google, and one of the creators of this series, “Design Is.” We made this monthly talk series to really make space for those working in design, creativity, technology, those working in that intersection to make space for really discussing topics that help craft a future that we all want to be a part of So today’s talk is a really exciting one It’s about curiosity, which makes me excited It’s really about not looking at problems that exist today, but thinking about putting curiosity at the center of your practice to expand your imagination, and also think about new problem spaces So our speaker, Lining Yao is a material engineer, a designer, and an assistant professor at the Human Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon She’s an adjunct professor of mechanical engineering and material sciences and engineering She leads a team at the Morphing Matter Lab, which sounds very cool, developing materials, tools, and applications of adaptive, dynamic, and intelligent morphing matter from nano to macro scales Her work is increasingly relevant to the design field, particularly looking at the intersection of the physical and digital world coming together So let’s give it up for Lining Yao [APPLAUSE] LINGING YAO: Thanks for inviting me to Google And my topic today is, Design is Passionately Curious So great minds are curious These are Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches when he was trying to study fluid dynamics So in particular this is the water flow, or fluid flow in general And later on a Caltech professor used a computational approach to visualize the blood flow that was envisioned by him many, many years ago And this is one of my favorite Bauhaus instructors, and also one of the greatest painters in history, Paul Klee So he actually was immensely curious about how the plants grow Based on how branches are formed he designed his art piece and also he tried to study the routine mechanism and created imaginative paintings of routine And this was actually a work from one of my dear inspiring friends, Eran Sharon So he’s a physicist from the University of Hebrew So when he does this demo, he likes to basically tear off a piece of paper So it turns out if you could tear off a piece of paper, or if you tear, maybe even just a trash bag like shown on the screen, you will see all these wavy patterns formed on the edge And he developed, basically both the mathematical and also physical models for this wavy pattern formation And eventually that explained, basically how our plants and flowers, and even corals grow along the edge This is due to the cell differential growth And with this discovery he wrote some science papers But in addition– this is actually one of the craziest things he did I really liked So he put some chemicals selectively on different areas, along the edge of the leaf And after a couple of days he started to see a wavy pattern formed Basically he’s sculpting nature, if you think about it It’s not through a genetic modification, but it’s through the idea of reconstructing nature through geometric parameters So when I started to encounter these beautiful stories, either in my life or in other people’s lives, I always have those scenarios in my head These people are curious So da Vinci, he used to run into the sand right after horses passed by on his street because he wanted to study sand And my dear friend, Eran, he was staring at those leaves for months and months and tried to be excited by the waves Or, you know, Newton, he was excited by staring at a piece of apple So I think these curiosities are really the driven force for the advance of art and science in history But why is this relevant to design? Maybe you guys want me to say, design is actually practical When we talk about science and art, not necessarily their goal is to be functional

and be helpful and useful for our daily life But design, as we know– one of the major missions is to be practical So maybe this is not a right statement Design should not be curious Design should be problematic and analytical But I hope through my talk though, I wanted to share another vision and I wanted to convince you guys with my vision So design is actually curious, and curiosity-driven design is a legit method if you want to create novel design applications So I started my journey of being curious almost seven or eight years ago when I was still a PhD student at MIT Media Lab And then I, along the way, invited all the other people to join my journey So this was a new lab I have founded it two years ago at Carnegie Mellon University after I graduated So now I have all these curious minds that are joining the journey to explore how a human-centered design can be transformed into a curiosity-driven design And in the lab we develop materials and thinking about constructing hardware and software tools for these materials, and also thinking how we can leverage them for applications So if you agree, as one of those classic methodologies to think about a design that is human-centered– indeed I am situated in the Human Computer Interaction Institute Human-centered design is one of the major practices a lot of the professors and students do And after I joined this HCI Institute at CMU I tried to replace, basically, the center and put curiosity there And you started to see the change of the surroundings as well So I wanted to share four stories that is my curiosity and my students’ curiosity in error, nature, context, and processes So let’s start with the first story, curiosity and error For makers who are sitting here, who had the experience playing with those low cost fused deposition printing platforms like MakerBot, basically, you know when you 3D print those artifacts they are very easily to warp And they are not going to be kept flat That’s why, you know, more expensive printers try to put things into an oven and try to keep the temperature consistent But we weren’t thinking– we observed this phenomenon and we have two questions One is why? Why do things warp for those cheaper 3D printers? And the second question is, can we try to take these advantages and try to– sorry, can we try to make this disadvantage into advantages? So this is what we figured By the way, I am not a polymer chemist I had to go into it by reading high school textbooks again But that was because I’m curious So here is what is actually happening So for polymers, basically the polymer chains like to stay in this chaotic state, basically like random spaghetti So when you try to 3D print those thermal plastic polymers on a printing platform, basically you are forcing the polymer chain to go straight You are melting it down and you are speeding up as you are extending it Right But the preferred state is this chaotic state So it has a tendency to go back to be more chaotic once it’s printed When you heat it up, this is what happens Basically the polymer chain tried to contract and you will see a bending effect that is undesired It’s the warpage defects of your cheap 3D printer But then we went ahead and tried to engineer this warpage And actually we tried to create even larger warpage This was started when I was an artist in residency in Pier 9 at Autodesk So we can control how much it warps, or in another word, how much it’ll bend with our material configuration as well Now you can print things flat, super fast and very reliably and then trigger it to fold back into a 3D shape So for example, this rose flower was printed as a flat disk, and it consequently turned into this self-assembled rose when you put it in hot water And this is the process So this was when this flat disk is printed, and this ring, when you dip it in hot water, as I mentioned, it would self-assemble into a 3D rose And we were able to computationally simulate how the folding will happen, or what shape it will fold into as well And again, for people who had experiences– a little bit of experience with 3D printing, you know, in order to print this rose in a one to one scale,

you may need to take about eight hours, because there are a lot of supporting material consumptions Actually it ends up really material-consuming And also removing the support is going to be a big headache But with our method you can take only one hour and without any post-processing effort to get this rose And you can do more things In addition to a rose you can still float a boat, a chair, and even an arbitrary shaped like a bunny And among all those my favorite is this chair So for example, you can make any flat disk self-assemble into a shape that’s actually functional We were envisioning this could be used for IKEA furniture So IKEA makes all their furniture flat because it saves a lot of their logistic costs But once it’s at your home, you have to manually assemble it And you know a slightly more complicated, more expensive IKEA furniture actually takes forever to assemble What if you can flatly ship a furniture back home and then by just applying some hot air with your hairdryer to get the shape assembled? Or if you want you just put in your bath [LAUGHING] So that one was a very, very small model we did And this is actually a one to one scale chair services We were able to morph from a flat shape Remember, you guys, my lab is called Morphing Matter Lab, so I will keep using this word, “morph” in addition to curiosity So on the left-hand, it is the 3D– sorry, it’s the 2D shape So the color actually represents how much each bean within this grid would shrink So when you dip this in water it will contract and [INAUDIBLE] app into 3D and eventually form the chair surfaces on the right-hand And we’re envisioning, basically a sustainable manufacturing pipeline that’s empowered by a term called 4D printing But the idea is that when you are printing it, you are saving printing time and the material, and then you save shipping costs And once it’s on-site it can self-assemble to save your self-assembly effort And eventually this shape that’s 3D can be flattened into 2D when you need to, for example, move to a new house you can flatten your chair again it’s reusable in that sense And you decided you completely don’t like it anymore, you can recycle the material completely Because PLA, which is the material we use for this project, it’s made of corn starch That’s like a known fact, right, for a lot of MakerBot harvest So I continue with my second story, how the curiosity in nature can also lead us to interesting inventions or interesting design So I grew up in inner Mongolia So this is some of the common pine trees I would see when I was a child I used to go out to pick up mushrooms after rain And another thing that I would pick up along the way is a pine cone So maybe you noticed it before So after the rain, the scales of the pine cones are often closed And when you put it on the balcony for a couple of days all the scales will open up As a kid I used to play this game So I would it back in water again And after a couple of hours you will see it get closed again If can think about it, this is a super intelligent smart material The transformation is empowered by water intake There’s no electricity But this material is responsive, smartly to the environmental condition And it is a reversible process Yes, we are talking about a nature-engineered smart material here And this is basically a sped up version of how the pine cone can open and close And after I joined my graduate school I got my memory back of how I played with pine cones, because I started to study smart materials I started to read science papers and realized pine cones were worth a science publication And there are many, many plants, and each of them almost is another science paper And they had all their different and interesting transformation behaviors And they are all electricity-free and powered by nature So this case, for example, is a seed pot The leaves will form this, basically helical structure to shoot out the seeds once the beans are mature So this is another really magical plant Actually my labbers are studying this very intensively So it’s a seed in the desert When the rain comes– so the seed will basically form a [INAUDIBLE] motion and drill itself into the ground So the seed is so smart that it can

recognize when is the best timing for itself to be seeded And it is purely based on a transformation mechanism of a coil And this is another flytrap plant Basically it causes a very rapid [INAUDIBLE] behavior to capture flies It’s actually– it eats meat, basically And in the Morphing Matter Lab, we study all these kind of morphing mechanisms from nature If you ask me what problem we are trying to solve, we are not trying to solve any problems We’re just, you know, curious And we wanted to study the science of it, and how nature is constructing them And the smallest unit of a morphing matter so far that’s responsive to moisture or water in general is this bacteria We have been studying this since the days when I was a PhD student at MIT So this was a special bacteria called bacillus subtilis natto bacteria The reason we chose natto is because after it was discovered in Japan it was considered a food And so it’s completely safe for designers It’s easy to play with and easy to imagine where this can be used And it has a very interesting story So Japanese actually found this when the samurai was on their trip to a battle So they figured, the soil being carried by this dry rice stalk-made bag tasted much better And later on they figured it was the bacteria inside the dry rice stalk fermented the soybean And since then, this has been a breakfast in Japan So if you go to Tokyo or you ask for natto, this is what you get And we actually ended up putting this soy bean under a microscope You will see actually billions of bacteria covering the soybean And this is the natto bacteria we’re studying And although we are using this novel function out of this Asian bacteria, its an activation function And if you place this bacteria on a thin film and try to trigger it by breathing on it, you actually will see the bacteria swell And that will pull the substrate up to form a bending motion So if you try to deposit this bacteria in an other, you can get different origami structure that can be responsive to moisture environments So here we were steaming on top of the films we printed And it’s super sensitive to the skin So this happened by accident Remember my theme today, it’s invention driven by curiosity So we didn’t know this thing can be used for wearables We ended up making wearables because it’s super sensitive to the skin And we consulted the New Balance folks and then they give us these heat map and told us where is the most sweaty part on your body And we ended up following their heat map and developed this garment And you have all the flaps on the back of the garment And when the body is cool, basically all the flaps will be closed And when your body gets sweatier, the flaps will open up This sounds familiar because it’s basically how the pine cone works And it’s powered– in this case the transformation is powered by our sweat So another interesting part of this is– it was a curiosity of our team as creators who initiated this project But it ended up that the curiosity spread to every single person we worked with through this project So these two dancers, they are professional dancers from Boston Ballet Company We asked them to model for our garment, but they ended up getting really curious of how this bacteria works, and they wanted to feel– they wanted to basically imagine what would happen if they tried to dance with other living beings on their body So they actually ended up inventing some interesting dance moves because they were thinking they are dancing with other things on their back So we were inspired and started to talk about an art exhibition called Dancing with Billions of Bacteria Eventually it ended up at some live shows, both at MIT and also somewhere else I remember there was one maybe in [INAUDIBLE],, the UK in London Yeah This is the video to document the whole process [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [END PLAYBACK]

So our curiosity actually drove us further than this design project So we were thinking, because we are using a bacteria, which is called bacillus subtilis, it turns out to be a model bacteria or a genetic engineering labs And you can easily modify its DNA to embed other functionalities I know in the Bay area now synthetic biology is a really hot topic And you guys all know, perhaps, making a little bacteria glow is the easiest trick you can do with synthetic biology So that’s what we did So we ended up making the bacteria– it can also glow And this glowing can get more and more intense as you get sweatier as well So you can start to envision a piece of fabric that can glow more and more intensively as well as open up when you are getting sweaty or running in the dark And we showed this piece as a garment sculpture in between kind of thing in [INAUDIBLE] in Paris And so this is pretty interesting, because we got it published in science advances And scientists liked it, but in the same time artists also like it And to go back to my whole statement of curiosity-driven design, maybe some of you guys don’t agree with me here and have indeed a deeper understanding or vision of what today’s problem-driven design is To my shallow understanding, I think problem-driven design is pretty much problem-focused, apparently Your design is towards a specific function But in terms of curiosity-driven design, in my head I think that design can start from somewhere and end in a random place, or in many possible places So you think about this biologic bacteria project Yes, we made a functional garment We actually ended up doing some gene tests for the sake of writing the paper and talking to our sponsors But we also ended up kind of encouraging the curiosity from the artists, the dancers who we are working with And for me, it’s getting personal when we started to produce the video I actually see it also as a video production project It’s my first time being a director, thinking through the storyline and trying to be– really not compromising the visual effect, although it is a research project from a graduate school And also there are, you know, interesting social and cultural discussions that are coming from this project And these are all not quite functional, in a conventional sense when we think about a problem-driven design I didn’t do any user studies, neither have my collaborators, for example And we were basically basing [INAUDIBLE] each

and trying to think what is the best and what is the most interesting way to inspire, both the science and also the art community So to move on, I also wanted to share the story of how we get really curious in the process of making something Even people in the audience, even if you are not a physical designer, let’s say, or a hardware designer, I’m pretty sure you’ll agree with me, there is a joy in the process of making It’s independent from whether it’s tangible media, tangible tools you are using or it’s digital media and digital materials you are playing with It is the process that really inspires us to come up with interesting ideas or inventions So after I joined Carnegie Mellon, I noticed in our neighbor lab they have lot of fancy knitting machines, industrial knitting machines And the professor who ran the lab, Jim McCann tried to convince me that a 3D knitting machine is really winning the game of 3D printing, comparing with 3D printers Yeah, for a person who has been working on printing forever, I’m like, yeah, I have try this He must be right because he made a bunny that’s 3D within 10 minutes How cool is that? So I got to study a little bit more And this is one of the videos he shared with me So it is how 3D knitting machines work Don’t get confused with weaving I know Google does a lot weaving fabric This one is how your sweater really is fabricated So you have many needles, basically The needles will pull a single thread and form all this loops, and loops after loops, rows after rolls That’s how your sweater is made Two important factors to play with, materials to play with– one is the bed, the bed of the needles, and the other one is a yarn carrier that carries this single thread that you can make loops with And it turns out there are multiple beds you can play with, and there are more than a single yarn carriers So basically that’s how you can mix different colors in your sweater So we, of course, from the Morphing Matter Lab we want to make everything morph Looking at Jim McCann’s little bunny, I’m like, can we try to morph the bunny? So I ended up working with my PhD student Leah and also a colleague, professor Scott Hudson to think about how you can embed tendons into one 3D meeting [INAUDIBLE] So what is a tendon? So this is tendon-driven media artifacts Basically a thread that can be pulled, and as you pull it, you can trigger whatever that you need You can imagine Nike will be interested in this kind of project because they can knit the shoe, but with the shoelace already knitted into it, right With one machine needing two paths, because that will save a lot of time for the fabrication So there are two essential roles One is to need a horizontal tendon It turns out there are some tricks you can play with this [INAUDIBLE],, basically two needle beds to interlace a horizontal tendon And there are also tricks you can use to embed vertical tendons by adding another yarn carrier that carries this blue tendon thread And with horizontal and vertical tendons you can start to embed diagonal tendons into the structure So until this point– by the way, we didn’t know what are the killer apps for it We are barely problem-driven anyway So I encouraged Leah to move ahead and try to think what fun demos we can do And first of all she showed more technique with demos She’s like, oh, yeah, now you can embed arbitrary directions You can make very robust robotic tentacles These were the things soft robotics really like to use with a demo how robust their actuation, or how flexible their actuation techniques are And we ended up also knitting a little bunny, a tribute to Jim McCann, the professor And so for the bunny there are embedded tendons that are white So in this case, we actually can trigger the bunny to move its ear, and also hug you So there is a little capacitive sensitive– yeah, Leah’s favorite So there is a capacitive sensing patch at the heart So, yeah So we are also knitting sensors into this structure as well But sensors for morphing levers are low hanging fruit

The actuations are much more intellectually challenging, and thus what we’d like to focus on But anyway, so I started to– until this point we were still curiosity-driven But I started to try to tell a better story to raise funding to support the work I’m like, imagine you embed Alexa into this soft robot Now everybody is talking about personal soft robots– personalized robots at home, but it still all looks like hard gadgets Right What about you if you have a fluffy toy that can also respond to you, tell you the weather, hug you when your baby are crying, or when you’re grandma is feeling lonely? So there are a lot of interesting things about 3D knitted soft robots, because not only they are soft robots, but also they are textiles, right They are soft goods And they’re our emotional attachments and effective interactions you can build on top of those And if you started to combine more conventional 3D knitting techniques like shading and texturing together with our tendon technique, you can think about more interesting products For example this pleated lampshade that can be a triggered to open and close on the fly, or a sweater that has a smart shoulder to pet you And we talk about maybe this can be patted by your mom from Mongolia while you’re not sleeping after midnight in San Francisco, trying to play video games Or maybe it’s just a warning system to tell me, hey, you are like, over-speaking tonight Please stop right now So there are many ways you can start to embed using information into those smart goods once the are textiles And that’s why I am interested in encouraging this type of work from a morphing matter perspective So we not only play with 3D knitting machines, basically we get really curious whenever we see fancy– especially fancy machines And this was another one It’s a half-million dollar laser cutter, but it laser-cuts in super high precision It’s a printer from Professor [INAUDIBLE] lab So we ended up cutting all those zigzag conductive traces out of copper Once you make those conductive traces out of copper, which is super conductive, you can embed all kinds of sensors and semiconductor-based electronics into your system So we are showing stretchable fabric as a technical demonstration So we ended up making a super– and so by the way, this super lady Catherine, she is actually a material science senior student who is a [INAUDIBLE] in the lab, and she’s just modeling it on the side But we ended up making all the patches for different functionalities So you can sense temperature, motion, basically whatever you want, and viral data, health sensor, one-pixel pixel cameras So we customized the function for different parts of the body This is one of my favorites So as you are eating, depending on if you’re eating potato chips or an apple, if you do a little bit of simple machine learning tricks you can monitor that It’s a simple microphone but it detects the food type You can imagine this will allow you or alarm you to eat more apples than chips So my last story about how curiosity will make your life and job more fun and more inventive, that is the curiosity in kitchen And you can maybe also call it curiosity in materials And I have been really interested in studying materials, especially smart and responsive materials in kitchen And this was one of the documentaries, viral documentaries in China So I saw there are a lot of materials that are morphable For example, you can stretch the noodle as long as you want, and when you try to fry a bread in hot oil you can get a big balloon So that is to do with the thermal expansion law Right And my grandma also tells me, when you try to cook dumplings you will see when it’s floating on top of water that means it’s done So there are also interesting buoyancies So there are always signs combined with our daily life So we started to list all the possible physical phenomenons Actually I talked to a physicist, trying to figure this out Because I love working with physics because they also do use these things driven by curiosity But they always ended up with immensely useful conclusions [LAUGHING] So we decided to choose swelling rate to start with our journey inside the kitchen So everybody knows swelling This is starch, one of the main ingredients in your pasta So when you cook a piece of pasta

the starch will attract all the water molecules and cause the swelling behavior That means your pasta becomes softer and bigger Super simple But it turns out, if you tried to decompose all the edible ingredients, you will find different swelling rate– different sweating ratios, sorry, and rate for different raw ingredients For example, cellulose or fiber components inside the food will have a complete different swelling ratio compared with starch So this is actually a simple piece of jello I’m talking about the jello you can actually buy from CVS or Target So it’s a single piece of jello, but in the center part we covered the jello with a bit of a cellulose And then you can see the growing rate This is the swelling rate of the center part is slower than the edges where there are no cellulose cover So I’ll play this video again Basically the center part grow slower because it’s composed of both cellulose that’s less swellable and gelatin But the edges are only gelatin And that’s cool So I played the old trick, if I try to 3D print the cellulose selectively to some regions on a super swellable gelatin film, maybe you can start to play with the swelling ratio of this film And that way you can make a flat film turn into a bandage shape when you cook it So you can also make a flat disk that turns into a potato chip shape when you are cooking it And you can be a bit fancier if you combine with some computational simulation methods You can make a disk that turns into a flower, and then the flower will go kind of dead by the end as you cook it And this is some of the outcomes [MUSIC PLAYING] So all the shapes you are currently seeing, they are after being cooked When they were made, they were all flat So, yeah So it’s a self-folding project, or self-folding materials if you will And until this point, again, it was driven by curiosity But then again I had to get some funding to support my students So I tried to tell a practical story, behaving like an engineer and a practical designer So I told the food industry, hey, if you make all your pasta flat you can save a lot of shipping and packaging costs For example, macaroni compared to flat spaghetti pasta will actually spend– sorry The other way to say it So flat pasta can save, comparing with macaroni can save more than 60% of the packaging space Because for 3D shapes you pack a lot of air But Italians like pastas in 3D shapes because they have different textures, they are paired with different sauces Right So there may be a market there And we also told the story to the media after we published the work, back still when I was at MIT And it went viral everywhere, and people were thinking this pasta is really becoming true And we started to receive emails asking– oh, actually the American Kitchen asked us to do a live demonstration and tell America how to [INAUDIBLE] pasta live on TV

So of course we said no because all these shapes were made of gelatin They never tasted like pasta And there’s a very small market for gelatin self-folding pasta [LAUGHING] But I ended up giving a talk in Milan And this was maybe right before I joined Carnegie Mellon So I was happily going there because I’m like finally, I got THE chance to talk about this vision of self-folding pasta to Italians See how much they can accept it But yeah, it ended up really a great event And the mayors of, I’ve forgotten Maybe the culture mayor In Milan actually I was there and all the audiences really liked the idea So they even got me in touch with an Italian pasta company And we ended up actually getting a semolina flour grown from Italy into our lab and trying to experiment with them So the whole vision is that we wanted to actually make it happen, because it seems like the world really liked it and maybe needs it And this is the real pasta And [INAUDIBLE] to say, they don’t have any additive ingredients Whenever I say I engineer food, they were like, people don’t like GMOs and synthetic chemicals But here they are just the semolina flours And you can see the top is before it’s boiled and the bottom is after it’s boiled And these are collections of pasta we offered to the Italian pasta company we are currently working with And again, so on the black background they were before Before it’s being boiled And now it takes legitimately 10 to 15 minutes for it to morph Because they are just normal flour It takes similar– basically exactly the same process to cook them And these are my students carrying some pasta for a hiking trip Yeah, we are also telling the joke that– maybe now the joke is coming true That pasta company is actually trying to license the technology from CMU So next time you try to propose, you know , fancy Italian restaurant, you can customize your food to carry information Carrying information, that sounds very Google [LAUGHING] And IoT, right– the internet of things through your food How fancy is that? So we also ended up working with a high-end French cuisine restaurant and tried to see how this kind of experiential food or smart materials can enrich our fine dining experiences Yeah, this is a self [INAUDIBLE] It’s my favorite It’s playing in real time The caviar [INAUDIBLE] So I want to explain the very last one a little bit So it’s a long piece of noodle you put in your water If you it for a bit longer time it started to chop itself into smaller pieces You can imagine you can cook within one pot for both yourself, who likes longer noodles as far as texture, and your kids will like shorter ones for easier digestion

So in a sense you are programming the cookability and the texture and the shape through the pre-programmed logic into your food I’m almost done with my journey Summarize with a little bit of immature theories here, just capture my own thoughts So again, talking back about the problem-driven design– so yeah, I know you guys also talk about this divergence where the needs converge for specific use cases and diverge for design process and converge for the final solution But however this goes, you start from a specific design goal, almost You kind of ended up solving that specific problem you are targeting But going back to this curiosity-driven design, we are kind of random So you start with some sort of a goal You really make yourself or your students slightly oriented But then you started to be more like– maybe you like a person who is driving a boat but without a compass You are doing the detours or you are stopping along the way and you’re seeing beautiful sceneries and get distracted and you completely get distracted You may not get back to the original goal you set, but along the way you discovered all those beautiful, beautiful things And you may find the continent of America eventually But the whole point is that– think about this food project We are trying random things Pasta was sort of a goal at the beginning, self-folding pasta, but the real goal, actually, honestly, it was self-folding dumplings I wanted to make for my mom in China Because every time I went back she spends a lot of time cooking But dumplings are really hard to self-morph Cannolis are much easier But we also knew that exploring the self-chopping food and fine dining experiences And now we’re even doing self within cookies All this knowledge– they are shared They can be shared They are shareable And that’s all because we are curious That’s all because we are kind of doing these things random We are making friends with the materials in the lab We are being patient We are being focused And we are also trying to combine our scientific ways of doing experiments and countering insights with our ways of thinking through the design practices So why designers? Why designers are important for these kind of examples I showed you– you can argue, you can be a material scientist in order to engineer a piece of pasta to sell food As a designer– I’m not sure if I still would call myself a pure designer I do have a design undergrad degree So I think there are a lot of things I contributed along the way for the examples I showed you So, yes, we started with often phenomenons We put them into fancy machines and different mechanical chemical testing facilities to understand the capabilities of the technology I call it possibility of technology But once all these possibilities are there, what’s the next step? That’s actually when designers can play a really important role Because we can think about the purpose of the design We can leverage our intuition and sensation through the practices of a design thinking to better leverage this possibility Eventually what technology will be used are actually decided by the designers in the team This has been my honest journey So take this as an example The self-chopping noodles I just said– that the fact was, I was working together with a chemical engineer who is a post-doc at the MIT chemical engineering department in the lab And we were trying to fine-engineer the self-morphing effect with one degree, you know, resolution accuracy But then we figured some of the pasta dissolved faster than the other one It turns out we are just buying from the same chemical company, two gelatin, but they have given molecular weight Molecular weight basically represents how long the polymer chain is, if you remember high school chemistry And she was frustrated She was like, oh, this is not controllable We bought the raw material this time And I was like, this is cool You can cook and control the dissolving time You can try to compose those two materials within the same noodle You can then make a, you know, a timer– basically a programmable noodle that can self-chop itself So I think it is to some extent her solid scientific knowledge and my intuition as a designer that gave birth to this self-chopping noodles

And of course along the way I tried very hard to equip myself with more rigorous engineering knowledge Because I do believe, as I shared, if you know more about the scientific theory, and also the processes of how machines work, how materials work, you will be able to infuse more of your design thinking and sensations to the early stage of your project development And I believe that’s true beyond this kind of fictional morphing matter research that we are doing And passionately curious is not something new Einstein told us [LAUGHING] Curiosity is really important, and also being passionately cure is extremely important So in my lab I keep telling my students, no matter what kind of technical background or design background they come from, they should try to combine their rigorous thinking with the imagination, and fantasies with reality So ultimately if they can be passionately curious with kind of the humble subjects they are dealing with, like thermoplastic or expensive and fancy subjects like the bacteria we are playing with, they can all result in exciting outcomes And I’d like to thank all the curious minds behind the projects I just listed and talked about, and all the funding support along the way And yeah, I am happy to answer any questions or if you guys want to get in touch, email is shared here Thank you [APPLAUSE] AUDIENCE: Thank you so much for your amazing talk It was absolutely mind-blowing I just had one quick question on the bacteria I noticed there’s almost like a symbiotic relationship between the human being and the bacteria I was wondering, have you– I work with a lot of people I work with CRISPR Have you thought about using CRISPR to genetically reprogrammed the bacteria to actually give it more of what it’s doing or new features? LINGING YAO: Yeah So we didn’t use CRISPR There were some DNA engineering we did to make the bacteria glow, responding to sweat But if you check a paper that was published in Science Advances, it’s actually called multi-functional genetically modified nano-actuator So the whole vision behind it was, you can– there are many synthetic materials you can use to make this piece of fabric responding to your sweat One setting point of using bacteria is that you can genetically modify it to make it multifunctional For example, you might be able to engineer a piece of fabric that will generate some perfume along the way when you get sweatier And we even talk about if you need some of those active functionality into it, you might need to actively feed the bacteria You can have a piece of garment every night Instead of putting it in a normal closet, you put it in a nutritious closet that has flowing nutrition every night so you can keep culturing your bacteria We didn’t go that far We did attract some interest Indeed and some venture capital firms in the San Francisco area I do believe there are some things that can be done And you can do a lot of the health-related sensing with it too I know there are already commercially available products that basically use the biology approach to extract the chemicals from your sweat and indicate that with color We can definitely indicate that with the shape as well, if you will AUDIENCE: Thank you so much for being here I’m very inspired I am curious about what other areas if your lab being curious about? Like what are you guys working on next? LINGING YAO: Like I mentioned– so we are actually– there are many different levels Just in terms of technical developments, one of the missions being a research lab in a university is that we wanted to keep pushing the limitation of technology Or the other way to– creating platform technology that can benefit the majority, and not just the single lab So we are aggressively trying to develop a more easy to use computational tool to allow the morphing matter to be fabricated One challenge is, those morphing matter, they are highly nonlinear soft materials from most of the case Various loads to simulate if you want to capture the precise morphing behavior

So we are trying to integrate machine learning and a numeric simulation method to make computational tools easier and slightly more fun So we started to investigate more natural morphing organisms nowadays The desert plants that can drill itself into the ground is this one thing we’re exploring with the hope that maybe one day after a California fire you can just deploy some artificial seeds with a drone and it can quickly re-plant the mountain I’m not sure even if it’s practical, but, you know, I’m just curious And what else? Yeah, so that’s on the, kind of application side So we are also trying to– nowadays trying to– this is not just because we are curious This is actually because we wanted to benefit the humanities We are trying to see– now we are having more and more knowledge, in terms of how to tame and manipulate things to morph, and sense and morph, in a sense We are trying to actually put this into a more practical and relevant application area For example, for health, can you make smart drugs or a smart surgical tool that you can swallow you inside your body and do certain things? Rather than just making pasta, can you actually make it beneficial for your health for drug deliveries and minimally invasive surgeries But these are really long-term scientific inquiries You can buy a piece of pasta maybe I can see that in a few years But, yeah, surgical tools that can self deploy into a freezer and then, you know, you get out once it’s done is surgery, maybe 10 years Yeah [APPLAUSE] SARAH WILSON: Thanks everyone for joining us tonight This has been super inspiring and mind-blowing, as someone in the back said Yeah Join us next month We will be talking about design is play with our next speaker So everyone have a great evening [MUSIC PLAYING]