Photo of blouse on dressform
Expanding University Initiatives
Design Innovation Initiative

DI Students Receive BioDesign Award

A team of Kent State students was recently honored for its efforts to create a sustainable black dye alternative. The BioBlack team of Janda Van Dyk, Jordan Smith, Kirsten Thieman and Lizeth Ramirez received the Outstanding Science Award from the Biodesign Challenge Summit 2020. 

The fashion industry currently uses synthetic dye to create the color black, so the team decided to work with bacteria to create a more eco-friendly replacement.

The words “biology” and “design” might not typically intertwine; however, Kent State University’s Biodesign Challenge course was created to challenge the idea that the two separate disciplines could not collaborate. The course was a collaboration between Design Innovation and Environmental Science and Design Research Initiative (ESDRI).  

During the fall of 2019, two dozen students from seven different majors (including biology, fashion, architecture, environmental studies, and computer technology) worked in teams to create a biodesign project. Six projects were completed over the course of the semester, four of which involved the fashion industry and two of which addressed new systems for clean water, food, architecture and energy production.

The BioBlack project focused on creating a sustainable black dye alternative. Currently the fashion industry uses synthetic dye to create the color black, so the team decided to work with bacteria to create a more eco-friendly replacement.

“Today, the fashion industry is one of the largest contributors of waste and they use toxic chemicals and a lot of water waste to create their dyes,” Thieman said. While sustainable alternatives to red, yellow, purple and blue dyes have already been developed, a sustainable black dye was yet to be created. “Black is the most common color,” Smith said. “It’s also gender neutral and not many colors are gender neutral. Everyone can wear black, which provides options for a diverse group of people.”

J.R. Campbell, director of the Design Innovation Initiative at Kent State, said students and faculty experienced new challenges throughout the course, which were resolved in different ways.

“Right from the start, this course changed the way professors normally thought about their own areas of study,” Campbell said. “Course instructor Chris Blackwood was allowing fashion students to work in his biology lab and conduct experiments in a way that he probably would have never naturally done with his own students in his own degree area.”


Support Our Students

Whether your gift supports technology, collaborative coursework or challenge-based competitions, your generosity will help make our students’ futures Forever Brighter.

Play Video

Design Innovation Team Takes Home Award