Neri Oxman creates wearable 3D-printed
structures for interplanetary voyages


Neri Oxman Stratasys

Neri Oxman's team at MIT Media Lab has created four 3D-printed "wearable skins" designed to facilitate synthetic biological processes that might one day allow humans to survive on other planets.

Neri Oxman and members of the Mediated Matter group at MIT Media Lab – an interdisciplinary research department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – collaborated with 3D printing company Stratasys to create structures with varied rigidity, opacity and colour.

The team used an Objet500 Connex3 Color, Multi-material 3D Production System to 3D print the "skins" in a range of plastics with different densities – each one suited to a different planet in the Earth's solar system.

Neri Oxman Stratasys
Main image: Mushtari. This image: Zuhal

The project, titled Wanderers: An Astrobiological Exploration, includes four pieces that are imagined to be embedded with living matter.

Using synthetic biology, this matter would be used to create micro-habitats or systems that would allow humans to explore other planets in the solar system with environments that would otherwise be lethal.

"The future of wearables lies in designing augmented extensions to our own bodies, that will blur the boundary between the environment and ourselves," said Oxman in a statement.

"With this collection, we have designed spatially and materially complex wearables pointing towards the possibility of containing living matter that can interact with the environment."

Neri Oxman Stratasys

The wearable structures incorporate pockets and tracts that could house the biological material, which would be synthetically adapted to make chemical changes in the surrounding atmosphere.

"Each piece intends to hold life-sustaining elements contained within 3D-printed vascular structures with internal cavities," said Oxman. "Living matter within these structures will ultimately transform oxygen for breathing, photons for seeing, biomass for eating, biofuels for moving and calcium for building."

The first piece, Mushtari, is designed to interact with the atmosphere on Jupiter and is shaped from a continuous translucent strand formed into layers that look like animal intestines.

Positioned around the lower abdomen, the device is proposed to consume and digest biomass, absorb nutrients, generate energy from sucrose accumulating in the side pockets and expel waste.

Zuhal is created to adapt to the vortex storms on Saturn. Bacteria contained on the bodice's swirling textured surface would convert the planet's hydrocarbons into edible matter.

Neri Oxman Stratasys

For survival on Mercury, Otaared creates a protective exoskeleton around the head that can be custom-fit to the wearer.

Finally, Al-Qamar is designed as a "wearable biodome". Fitted around the neck and over the shoulders, the exterior is made up of pods for algae-based air-purification and biofuel collection to produce and store oxygen.

Oxman also worked with German design duo Christoph Bader and Dominik Kolb during the project to generate the shapes of the wearable pieces using computational growth patterns.

"As a continuation, Oxman's team is now in the process of integrating living engineered cells into the wearables for functional augmentation purposes," said a statement from Stratasys.

The pieces were unveiled today as part of Stratasys' collection The Sixth Element: Exploring the Natural Beauty of 3D Printing, which is on display at the EuroMold event in Frankfurt, Germany, until 28 November.

  • Oyster

    I won’t wear any of those when I fly to Mars.

  • someguy

    Okay this has gone on long enough that I need to ask. Is there a preponderance of skin graft, body modifying and a fantasy role playing trend going on in the design and 3D-printing community, or does Dezeen just post every single instance of this?

    NB this is not an indictment it is a question. It’s not been made clear to me why scrolling through Dezeen is all “tasty modernist home, minimalist furniture, Lord Foster 3D printing another building on the moon, facegina, ektomorphmaskfaceeater” repeat. Which of these things, on the surface, does not belong?

    • Marcus Des

      My first thought was: Iris van Herpen on acid meets Guardians of the Galaxy. I don’t agree with your scrolling-experience though, I find that most of the time there is something in the mix I want to read. I just don’t like the clothes/watches stuff.

  • Daniel Brown

    Iris van Herpen meets Dune…

  • 8mismo

    The intestinal diaper is a bit too baggy for my taste in living outerwear. What if you decide to sit or lie down? Does this harm the organism?

    What about the 300 mph winds on Jupiter? Can it generate force shields? Does the intestinal diaper have anti-gravity built in to resist the crushing 24 G’s?

    Human’s will need to have completely re-engineered bodies to travel to planet’s like Jupiter. 3D-printed adult undergarments won’t cut it.

  • varun

    If it’s going to be skin, how can you wear it like that? Hugging people won’t be the same again.

  • Badger

    Just because it came out a 3D printer, doesn’t mean it’s relevant Dezeen.

  • doobious

    Chastity pants and chastity boobs.

  • Dasmehr

    Is there really so little good stuff happening in the 3D-printing world? Or is Dezeen just losing its grasp on quality. Since this is just one thing, ridiculous…

  • ScuffedShoes

    Is there really any need to 3D print bad cover art of SciFi novels?

  • Instead of getting all up-in-arms (hopefully you see what I did there) these are prototypes from a concept.

    Ultimately, printed organs would be internal. Making them external is a way to document the scientific concepts that show how we as a species, are getting to a point where we can manufacture new body parts, with new functions.

    This isn’t about printing a kidney, this is about inventing organs, to advance survival in unliveable environments. It’s pure science fiction. Great stuff.

    • Nicky


      Also, how on earth does Oxman and her team model these things? I respect the skill involved on the production of these pieces, from the on-screen workflow to these recent innovations in multi-material 3D printing.

      • Martin

        She doesn’t do it at all. As the article states, “Oxman also worked with German design duo Christoph Bader and Dominik Kolb during the project to generate the shapes”, using generative algorithms. But who cares for some boring German designers, if you can get an MIT poster girl?!

        • zoe

          What do you think most artists do these days? All big artists have a team of like 5-20 people working for them producing their artwork. That’s the art industry for you.

      • I took a tour of MIT while I was in college. The laboratories they had back then, to model hypothetical life forms, based on protein and RNA instruction was intense.

        I imagine working with a set of German designers, you could force all sorts of bizarre, theoretical possible forms.

  • harold

    How do they model these things?

    They don’t model them, they grow them which in itself is very interesting:

  • pinkipong

    Truly avant garde.

  • Arjay Cee

    Hell, I can’t help myself. I feel like ordering out tonight for placenta!

    • Gordon Jenkins

      With or without pineapple?

  • Weston

    I see this entirely as an art piece that is grabbing for any bit of scientific relevance that it possibly can (and it’s failing badly).

    • Zombie Jesus

      It is extremely sad that you look at it this way. Apparently you don’t understand all the science behind each one of those objects.

  • Greg Or

    It looks disgusting.

  • Lanvy Nguyen

    This will probably assure that mating with Martians (or Humans) will not happen for the duration of the trip to and fro.