As our oceans become more and more polluted by our habits of wasting and tampering with the natural environment, we may soon reach a point where we can no longer enjoy the pleasures that lay within the world’s waters. But a team of engineers from the University of California Riverside are trying to help clean up the mess with an amazing 3D printed concept called the Spongesuit bikini, which works by using a unique material that absorbs pollutants while the wearer is swimming. The material was produced by UC Riverside electrical engineering professor Mihri Ozkan, along with the help of her husband/fellow engineering professor Cengiz Ozkan and a couple of former and current Ph.D students.
The team calls this material ‘Sponge’, a reusable material derived from heated sucrose, which is a form of sugar has a highly porous structure that is simultaneously water-repellant and pollutant-absorbent. The material is both cost-effective and environmentally friendly, but Ozkan and her team still needed a fashionable way to house the ‘Sponge’ that they had developed. That’s when partners of New York City-based architecture and design firm Eray Carbajo came in with the idea to implement the material into a wearable technology, and thus the Spongesuit bikini was created by housing the ‘Sponge’ material within a 3D printed swimsuit.
The 3D printed elastomer body of the Spongesuit bikini has a unique, spiderweb-like design, and acts as the structure for the ‘Sponge’ technology filler. This way, the 3D printed ‘elasto plastic’ holds the material in place, while the material itself is able to absorb up to 25 times its own weight in pollutants and doesn’t release any of it unless the swimsuit is heated at an extreme temperature of 1,000 degrees Celsius. Held firmly by the 3D printed web-like design, the pollutants are trapped within the pores of the material, ensuring that the absorbed material never makes contact with the wearer.
This 3D printed design and implemented ‘Sponge’ material has been an effort that has been well-received thus far, winning the Reshape 15 Wearable Technology Competition and has also been recognized at the Rome Maker Faire this October. The unique design gives it fashionable appeal, while the environmental implications behind the material technology stands to help in many ways beyond a water cleaning bathing suit. But for now, these UC Riverside engineers are offering us (well bikini-wearers at least) an opportunity to strap on the Spongesuit and enjoy a swim, all while making the ocean a cleaner and more pristine place.