The itsy-bitsy teenie-weenie bikini has seen a number of evolutions since the 60s – but none like the one that captured first prize at the Reshape 15 Wearable Competition . While most prior bikini evolutions were all about style, this most recent award-winning one is about environment !
The “Sponge Suit” combines chemical engineering and, of all things, 3-D printing to create a swimsuit that actually cleans the water as the swimmer goes about his or her aquatic activities. The “magic” material is made by heating something not so magical at all: sucrose, or sugar. The result of the chemical transformation is Sponge, a material that absorbs pollutants from the water and repels “good water”. This material is then used as the core of a mesh-like bikini top and bottom produced by a 3-D printer.
It’s pretty remarkable what something derived from sugar can do in terms of helping clean up the environment – with scientists asserting that Sponge can absorb up to 25 times its weight in contaminates. Moreover, properties of Sponge trap contaminates in its core, so there is no risk for the person wearing it; skin never comes in contact with harmful particles. Once the Sponge core has reached its “absorbency capacity,” it can be removed and replaced so the cleaning-while-swimming can continue!
Not only are the minds behind this innovation focused on promoting cleaner water, they are also looking out for other environmental concerns. For example, Sponge is not harmful to the environment and can be reused up to 20 times before needing to be replaced. Moreover, the contaminates trapped in the Sponge core will only be released when the material is heated to more than 1000 degrees Celsius – not something your every-day ocean-goer is going to accidentally do at the beach house, but perhaps the key to a whole new type of “dry cleaning” business opportunity.
Finally, this Sponge technology isn’t just for bikinis. Bathing suits, caps and other wearable designs are in the works, and scientists are looking into transforming it into paints for aerial vehicles.
While Sponge is quite cost-effective to produce, the law of natural “adoption” for new sportswear trends may mean it could be a few more years before we see Sponge Bob trading in his square pants for a more environmentally and shapely Sponge suit! But, the technology is available and we hope to see pollution-absorbing swimwear grow in popularity.