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### Enhancing Textiles with Functional Programming

Encouraged by her family, Lavender Tessmer delved into various creative endeavors from an early age, particularly exploring textiles such as knitting and crocheting. Upon her arrival at MIT, she anticipated that her involvement with textiles would remain a mere pastime; little did she expect it to shape her professional trajectory.

During her interview for a research assistant role at MIT, she fortuitously discovered that the lab had recently secured funding from the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America for a textile-centric project.

Currently a fifth-year doctoral student in design and computation at the School of Architecture of Planning, Tessmer spearheaded the project, collaborating with [ppp1] , an associate professor of design research, and [ppp2] , an associate professor in building technology. Reflecting on her journey at MIT, Tessmer remarks, “My fascination with textiles blossomed and took center stage at MIT.”

Despite the commonplace nature of textiles, the Covid-19 pandemic underscored the critical role of textile products in safeguarding public health, particularly in terms of filtration for masks. Acknowledging the significance of textile manufacturing capabilities, Tessmer’s research concentrates on programming textiles with specific functional attributes while also considering the feasibility of large-scale production of such items.

A Nonlinear Route to MIT

Tessmer pursued music as an undergraduate at Duquesne University, a passion that flourished during her high school years. An assignment that required her to draw parallels between a piece of music and another artistic medium led her to discover architecture, highlighting the systematic essence shared by both disciplines, emphasizing the importance of repetition and structure in fostering creativity. This revelation steered her towards a new career path. She recalls, “I instantly knew that’s what I wanted to pursue.”

Transitioning from music, she opted to dedicate the year post-college to architecture instead of auditioning for music ensembles. She explains, “I always enjoyed creating things, and through architecture, I realized that I could make things professionally.” Leveraging the fundamental drafting skills imparted by her father, she channeled her efforts into constructing her architecture portfolio.

Subsequently, she pursued a master’s degree in architecture at Washington University in St. Louis. Graduating amidst the 2007 economic recession, a period marked by scarce job opportunities in architecture, she embraced a part-time teaching role at WashU. Over the ensuing five years, this position evolved into a full-time lecturer role, allowing her to teach students while concurrently establishing her design practice and leading various installation design projects, all inspired by textiles. Tessmer elaborates, “We crafted high-performance carbon-fiber braided structures into large-scale braided nets with specific geometries.”

Extracting Maximum Value from Graduate School

While teaching at WashU proved rewarding, the practice-oriented ambiance of the architecture department propelled Tessmer to seek diverse perspectives on design. Motivated by a desire to explore innovative design boundaries, she gravitated towards MIT, renowned for its groundbreaking research in the field. Opting for a master’s degree in architecture studies and subsequently a doctorate in design and computation within the School of Architecture and Planning, Tessmer was drawn to MIT’s interdisciplinary approach in the architecture department. She notes, “Being an architect or designer at MIT means being part of a class comprising individuals from various backgrounds, a dynamic that fosters creativity and collaboration.” This integrated model marked a departure from her prior academic encounters, where disciplines operated in isolation. She appreciates the mutual respect among disciplines within MIT’s architecture department, emphasizing the value placed on each participant’s contributions.

Approaching graduate school from a distinct vantage point as an older student, Tessmer adopts a focused approach, honing in on her interests amidst a myriad of opportunities at MIT. She underscores the benefits of concentrating on a specific area and extracting comprehensive insights, notwithstanding the array of alternative prospects.

Throughout her academic journey, Tessmer has delved into several projects united by a common thread: an emphasis on fiber development and textile programming. As a master’s student in the Self Assembly Lab, she harnessed material properties and computational integration to optimize configurations for specific functions. Tessmer broadened her understanding of computation at MIT, viewing materials as repositories of information that can be programmed to exhibit desired behaviors.

Her projects ranged from designing temperature-responsive fibers to embedding diverse properties within a single fabric, catering to the varied needs of astronauts. Collaborating with experts across multiple MIT departments, she engineered a spacesuit sleeve featuring embedded padding, stretchable regions, a compression gradient, and various sensors. Another venture involved integrating shape-changing capabilities into fabric structures to enhance comfort and fit, offering an innovative alternative to traditional tailoring. Returning to her architectural roots, she embarked on designing a reinforced concrete beam using textiles, a sustainable approach compared to conventional concrete construction methods.

A pivotal aspect of Tessmer’s research is her emphasis on the scalability of manufacturing processes. Leveraging industrial-scale machinery and consulting with manufacturing partners, she endeavors to bridge the gap between research outcomes and real-world applications.

Venturing into Entrepreneurship

Tessmer jests, “My entire pastime of textiles has seamlessly transitioned into my research. I’m now on the lookout for a new hobby.” Presently, her entrepreneurial pursuits have taken precedence. She explores the commercial potential of her technologies, having filed multiple patents and completed The Engine Accelerator program. Her vision entails revolutionizing the commercial fabric sector by embedding properties in textiles in an automated fashion, streamlining the manufacturing process.

Illustrating this concept with shoe manufacturing, Tessmer proposes an automated approach to embed diverse properties in textiles, obviating the need for intricate assembly processes. While entrepreneurship beckons as a potential avenue, Tessmer envisions a continued academic trajectory. She aspires to amalgamate her diverse experiences into a research-focused career, designing textiles within an architectural framework while addressing manufacturing scalability constraints.