The objective of this material based research grant is to develop an approach that uses bacteria to grow three dimensional cellulose forms. Many craft processes utilize biologically produced cellulose, such as wood. Traditional craft approaches to making from life typically employ a grow-harvest-make sequence that primarily utilizes subtractive processes. A tree grows in the forest, which we harvest and reduce to a log. The log is milled down to lumber, which is further cut in to pieces, and assembled to make a table. On the contrary, living systems employ an additive approach to making, optimizing the volume and micro-structure of material for the specific form created. Nature’s ability to pattern material on the micro and nano scale exceeds the capacities of the most skilled craftsperson and even our most advanced digital fabrication technologies. In this “Crafting Cum Vivo” project we merge these approaches, making with life, growing three-dimensional forms with bacterially-produced cellulose.

We integrate design into the growth phase and employ casting and 3D printing to guide material production into crafted form. We create three-dimensional forms, with a material that typically grows in two-dimensional sheets, through the development of specialized bioreactors. Two distinct approaches are pursued. One utilizes a cast 3D form to serve as a guiding substrate for 3D growth. The second approach programs origami patterns and embeds fixtures into the material by growing the cellulose into 3D printed lattice structures.

Properties of the bacterial cellulose are further enhanced by by post-processing techniques. Lyophilization is utilized to produce bacterial cellulose aerogels. Cellulose composite materials are created by exchanging water held in the cellulose with photocurable resins, creating a rigid material with positive structural characteristics. Finally, this work spans nine orders of magnitude and many disciplines to bring the production of this nanoscale material to a furniture scale application. The resulting work demonstrates the viability of this approach to craft, and highlights the unique functional and aesthetic properties of this material.