In 1952, shortly before his death, mathematician Alan Turing turned his attentions to an important question in theoretical biology: how does complexity arise from homogeneity? How, in other words, does a mass of nondifferentiated cells such as blastocytes or the cells found in a seed, produce the extraordinarily diverse range of cells and tissues that combine to form a lizard, or an oak tree, or a human being?
Turing was already famous for his pioneering work in computer science, and for leading the Allied effort to break the Enigma code during World War II. His speculations on what he termed morphogenesis were grounded in his previous work on the identification and evolution of patterns, and it took biologists more than 60 years to fully confirm his theories.
That confirmation opened the door to applications of morphogenesis in fields ranging from engineering to organ transplantation. And…fashion?
More on Morphogenesis
Turing’s answer came by way of chemistry. When chemicals are introduced to a mass of identical cells—those in an embryo, for example—they react both with each other and with the cells they encounter. These reactions cause the chemicals to interact differently with each cell they encounter as they diffuse across the entire mass, and the progress of these interactions can be described by patterns.
Turing predicted that this reaction-diffusion method would produce six distinct patterns, which form a sort of alphabet for future differentiation. He might not have predicted that it would be used to create a distinguished line of luxury handbags.
Turing proposed a theoretical model for general cellular differentiation. But the reaction-diffusion model can be inflected to create differentiation within a specific scope. For example, Turing’s basic question can be narrowed to one of visual texture: how do complex visual patterns arise from nothing? How do stripes, dots, whorls, and other patterns emerge from groups of identical cells found in embryos and nascent seeds?
3D printing, especially when performed as part of an additive manufacturing process, provides a fascinating opportunity to pursue a focused expression of morphogenesis.
The filaments used in 3D printing are of course homogenous down to their cellular structure. And the process already relies on chemistry: the heat sources used to shape 3D objects act as excitatory factors encouraging chemical reactions that produce solid objects from thin strands of fiber. When additional inputs are added to the equation, additional chemical reactions occur which, when diffused across the printing medium, produce interesting, often intricate patterns.
The result is an entirely new species of textile, one whose visual texture arises organically from the same processes responsible for the panoply of nature. The Morphogenesis line of sustainable bags represents the first couture items produced using this approach. It promises not to be the last.