Descience Brings Research to the Runway

Tonight's show at MIT Media Lab marries fashion and science. By Cheryl Fenton

A swirling DNA strand. An iridescent butterfly wing. The whimsical doughnut-like shape of a red blood cell. Who says science isn’t beautiful? Even some ravaging viruses show up as graceful shapes when magnified to 250,000 times their size. But unless you have an electron microscope in your back pocket, Mother Nature’s pattern play is a rare treat. That is, until now.

Descience: Research on the Runway fuses two unlikely bedfellows: science and fashion. Forty-four scientists from around the globe teamed up with clothing designers to create garments that express their fields of study and research— these pairs will present their looks on the catwalk tonight (Sept. 29) at the MIT Media Lab.

Although the Descience designs were inspired by less-than-lovely concepts (think: kidney disease, invasive plant species, and rare brain disorders), the results are breathtaking. Red blood cells become draped ruby fabric, neuron scans transform into holographic brocade, and corsets represent bone graph scaffolding.

Injecting often intimidating scientific research with fun is the show’s mission. “I had been looking for a way to make science tangible and accessible to everyone,” says Dr. Yuly Fuentes-Medel, the program’s executive director. “Something clicked when I attended my first fashion show and realized that fashion is an expression of identity and a human necessity. Our hope was that collaboration between the worlds of fashion and science would lead to innovative concepts and mutual understanding.”

A who’s who panel of scientists and designers— a Nobel Prize winner; a big wig from Boston Fashion Week; an MFA curator—will judge the looks tonight. The winner of the people’s choice online contest will also be announced. Some of the garments will go on display at MIT’s Koch Institute for an ArtWeek event on October 2., before all the designs travel to cities like Santiago, Chile, and Stockholm, Sweden.

The marriage of the two disciplines is mutually beneficial: Chic style gives science a new language, while cutting edge research provides fashion with a fresh source of inspiration. The importance of each outlook is easy to see. Even without a microscope.

Caption and credit

Look from Team Photonic T Bone / Courtesy photo.

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Look from Team NanoNephron / Courtesy photo.

Monday, Sept. 29, 6:30-10 p.m. Tickets are sold out, but the event will be live-streamed at