Advanced Functional Fabrics
In 2017, FIT President Joyce F. Brown and MIT President Rafael Reif drew up a plan to bridge design and engineering—and to help boost the textile industry along the way. On the surface, their two institutions seemed incompatible, with areas of focus that overlap at points but are typically seen as disparate. However, where those areas overlap, a complementary partnership has grown into a committed effort from both institutions that have enabled each school’s students to expand their horizons, create new relationships, and engage with industry in a learning environment. MIT scientists are advancing textile research that could change the world, while FIT designers, long-renowned for their creativity, are developing the sustainable fabrics of the future. The overlapping synergies are ripe for collaboration and the unexpected discoveries when these students work together.
FIT and MIT called on Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA), an organization that often partners with industry and academia, to help realize this vision. AFFOA is a Cambridge, Massachusetts–based nonprofit public-private partnership that is working to enable a manufacturing-based revolution by transforming traditional fibers, yarns, and fabrics into highly sophisticated, integrated, and networked devices and systems. In the years since the partnership began, the AFFOA Workshop has taken several forms, including an in-person component at both campuses (FIT and MIT) and the AFFOA headquarters, remote sessions, and a fully remote workshop in the 2020–21 winter term. These programs have included lectures, discussions, workshops, and demonstrations from faculty and industry experts, and design challenges set by faculty and industry experts executed in collaborative student groups of varying backgrounds in science and design. Final designs are presented to industry experts and faculty judges for the students to improve on their projects, which have become the seed for additional research, grants, research, patents, and more.