New functional fabrics are being developed through programming

Inspired by her family, Lavender Tessmer explored various creative pursuits at a young age, particularly in textiles such as knitting and crocheting. Upon arriving at MIT, she assumed her textile work would remain a hobby, never expecting it to play a crucial role in her professional journey.

However, during her interview for a research assistant position at the Self Assembly Lab, she discovered that the lab had secured funding from the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America, a manufacturing institute established during the Obama administration, for a textile-based project.

As a fifth-year doctoral student in design and computation within the School of Architecture and Planning, Tessmer embraced the project, collaborating with Skylar Tibbits, an associate professor of design research, and Caitlin Muller, an associate professor in building technology. Describing her experience at MIT, Tessmer stated, “At MIT, my interest in textiles really flourished and became central to everything I do.”

While textiles may seem ordinary, the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the significance of textile products in safeguarding our health and safety, particularly in mask filtration. Recognizing the necessity of textile manufacturing capabilities, Tessmer’s research has focused on programming textiles with specific functions while considering large-scale manufacturing feasibility.

**A unique journey to MIT**

Initially a music student at Duquesne University, Tessmer’s interest in architecture sparked during a high school assignment that juxtaposed music with other art forms. This revelation led her to realize the synergies between music and architecture in terms of structure and creativity. She recalls, “I immediately realized that’s what I want to do.”

Transitioning from music to architecture, Tessmer dedicated a post-graduate year to architecture pursuits instead of pursuing music performance opportunities. With her father’s drafting teachings as a foundation, she built an architecture portfolio based on her skills and passion for creation.

**”Maximizing every opportunity” in graduate school**

Transitioning from teaching at WashU, Tessmer sought new design perspectives at MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning. Describing MIT’s interdisciplinary approach as unique, she was drawn to the program for its integration of diverse disciplines within the architecture department.

Approaching graduate studies from a focused perspective, Tessmer delved into fiber development and textile programming, anchoring her projects around material properties and computation integration. Her research ranged from designing responsive fibers to fabricating spacesuit components for astronauts.

**Venturing into entrepreneurship**

Having transformed her textile hobby into a research venture, Tessmer is exploring the commercial potential of her technologies. With a keen eye on patenting and commercialization, she envisions embedding properties in textiles to streamline production processes, aiming for practical applications in fabricating complex products such as shoes.

Envisioning a potential future in academia, Tessmer reflects on her journey and aims to merge her academic background with entrepreneurial endeavours, focusing on designing textiles within architectural contexts while addressing manufacturing scalability challenges.

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