FAST CO: MIT Is Hacking Thousands Of Worms To Print Buildings
It’s called the Silk Pavilion, and while a robotic arm laid the basic hexagonal framework, 6,500 live silkworms extruded the pavilion’s hauntingly gorgeous shell. It’s what researchers call a “biological swarm approach to 3-D printing,” or what may be the most epicly named piece of fabrication technology since the blowtorch. You see, while silkworms have been used for millennia to give us our beloved silk, that process has always required a level of harvesting–boiling cocoons to generate silk filament. MIT has discovered how to manipulate the worms to shape silk for us natively.
A biological swarm can break outside the bounds of even the largest 3-D printer, building structures in their actual environments. Now combine that idea with another discovery the researchers made when producing the pavilion: The 6,500 silkworms were still viable after finishing construction. They actually pupate into moths (on the structure), and those moths can produce 1.5 million eggs. That’s enough to theoretically supply what the worms need to create another 250 pavilions