Finnish design firm, VTT explore synbio possibilities with renewable headphones


In Finland, design studio Aivan is using six renewable materials to produce headphones. Dubbed Korvaa, which is derived from the Finnish word for “ear,” the headphones were developed in collaboration with VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Aalto University and are meant to illustrate the potential uses of synthetic biology.

Materials include biodegradable polylactic acid produced by Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which was 3-D printed, and ear padding produced by the fungus Trichoderma reesei. The latter grows cells using hydrophonin, a foaming protein, which the researchers made stronger by mixing with plant cellulose.  Phanerochaete chrysosporium produced mycelium, a leathery material, to cover the cellulose-reinforced foam for the part of the headphones covering the ears. The mesh material covering the headphone’s speakers were made from biosynthetic spider silk.

The exercise was not meant to produce a commercial project, but to explore the ways products could be reimagined using synthetic biology. Headphones were chosen as the prototype object because they require multiple materials with several attributes.

Those involved are quick to point out, however, that some of the materials used are biopersistent.

“For now, certain compromises had to be made,” Aivan product designer Saku Sysiö tells dezeen. “However, it’s a rapidly developing field of research and we’re excited to see what happens in this area in the next years, and the implications for various industries, how these materials are used.”