Unit 8: Science Connection

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Germ of an Idea: Designer Bacteria

How cool would it be to never wash your smelly gym socks again? Imagine never having to throw out your favorite sneakers, or clean your favorite shirt, even if you soil it with sticky fudge.

A professor at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth says he is close to creating the first fabric that never has to be cleaned.

Alex Fowler and other scientists have been trying to invent a special type of cloth infused with dirt-eating bacteria, tiny one-celled living things. Fowler says the bacteria he is using already exist in the human body.

Fowler is experimenting with ways to inject the bacteria into cotton and milkweed fibers. Those fibers can then be woven into clothes, and the bacteria will consume dirt and sweat.

Fowler anticipates that the development of such a garment might mean the creation of the first self-cleaning fashion line.

“A sneaker that actually is guaranteed odor-free for a lifetime would be a huge marketable thing,” Fowler said.

In addition to self-cleaning clothes, Fowler's research might lead to types of fabric that can heal cuts or glow in the dark.

Word Wise

Material produced by joining fabrics together; cloth: Cotton is a very popular fabric.

To bring or put in: The baker used a special tool to inject frosting into the cupcakes.

A thin strand of natural material: Silk is made up of very soft, thin fibers.

To buy and use goods and services: Many consumers are buying computers this year.

An article of clothing: Mrs. Rivera took several garments to the dry cleaners.

Able to be sold: We all agreed that green lemonade would be more marketable than blue.

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Look at the words “fabric,” “fiber,” and “garment.” How are these words related? Draw a picture of each word, and copy the definition below it. Then draw arrows between the words to show how they are related.

Data Hunt

Imagine that you have decided to open a clothing store that sells the self-cleaning clothes made by Fowler's team of scientists. Create a newspaper advertisement for your store. Be sure to include the following information:

  • pictures of items to be sold (shirts, sneakers, pants, socks, etc.)
  • the price of each item
  • the cost of an outfit made entirely out of self-cleaning clothing—written out as an equation
  • how the clothing self-cleans, including details from the article