Project ZG Stardust | Silkworms in Zero G
Updated: Jun 8
Mediated Matter Group at MIT Media Lab
Position: Undergraduate Researcher (UROP)
June 2019 — February 2020
How might Zero Gravity Space affect silk spinning, and what benefits might such material properties provide for digital fabrication and additive manufacturing once back on Earth? Project ZG Stardust explores the broader theme of material formulation and fabrication in microgravity, particularly the spinning of silk by silkworms. Experimental research associated with the project focuses on the spinning dynamics of the silkworm Bombyx mori. We study how microgravity may impact the worms across all stages of life—egg, larva, cocoon, and adult moth—through changes in their spinning patterns pre- and post-flight. The goal is to implement insights and results in the design of fiber-based goods not producible on Earth otherwise while enabling natural metamorphosis.
Photos by Sara L. Wilson.
In this project, we aim to explore these questions by exposing silkworms of all stages in the life cycle – egg, young larva, spinning larva, cocoon, and moth – to a microgravity environment through a parabolic flight. Insects within specially designed capsules will be examined and filmed aboard a unique aircraft as it completes many parabolic arcs. Over the course of the entire flight, insects will experience 15 rounds of zero gravity, for 20-30 seconds each time. We will correlate the image and video data to recorded accelerometer data, thereby elucidating the real time responses of organisms to drastic gravitational changes. Upon return, we will study the behavioral and morphological changes in the worms and moths in the f0 generation (those that flew) as well as the f1 generation, to evaluate any lasting effects. We will also examine the forms and quality of silk that will be generated on the flight and afterwards.
Direct supervisor: Sunanda Sharma
PI: Neri Oxman