Researchers and students apply the properties of hair to their designs

Cilllia by MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group (Photo Jifei Ou)

The protagonist of identity exploration, status statements and political musicals: hair. In its countless mangled, tangled, spangled and spaghetti manifestations, hair is the subject of investigation by students and researchers who are analysing the tensility and flexibility of this truly human-made material. While heaps of unwanted cuttings lie on barbershop floors, the widespread need for lengthy tresses in medical applications grows. With 6.5 million kg of hair wasted annually in the UK alone – a statistic exacerbated by an ever-rising world population – the inevitable appearance of man’s manes in the design sphere is long overdue. 

For their project The Colour of Hair, Royal College of Art students Fabio Hendry and Martijn Rigters collected mops of the stuff from London’s beauty salons. After heating metal sheets to 250℃, the duo sprinkled the ringlets across these ‘hotplates’, instantly carbonizing hair fibres and causing keratin protein to release an ‘ink’. Similar to screen printing, the process promises pigment permanence and durability. Short hair is ground into a fine substance to create a pattern, and long hair is heat-pressed to mimic marbling.

Central Saint Martins graduate Sanne Visser collaborated with specialists for The New Age of Trichology, a project based on collecting and converting would-be-waste trimmings for utilitarian purposes. After assessing the texture of Afro, Asian and Caucasian strands, Visser embedded their strength into a range of hairy harnesses. Once spun into yarn, the length achieved from 26 haircuts was braided to make a dog leash, while a bungee cord materialized from only four cuts’ worth of human locks.

Researchers at MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group developed Cilllia, a ‘new computational method for designing and 3D-printing artificial cilia’. The software manipulates the coarseness, density and dimensions of thousands of threadlike structures – at a mere ‘50 micrometre resolution’ – ready for printing within minutes. An accompanying paper – ‘Cilllia: 3D Printed Micro-Pillar structures for Surface Texture, Actuation, and Sensing’ – explains that, like human cilia help food pass through the intestines, the printed substitute can facilitate technological processes that involve movement and interactivity.

This project was featured in Frame 112. Find your copy in the Frame Store.

More from this issue

Frame 112

The August/September issue checks in to the hospitality scene to explore tailor-made hotel concepts for millennial travellers.

€ 19,95

Buy now Subscribe

Liked this article?
We've got more for you

Sign up to our newsletter for weekly updates. Or view the archive.