Mycelium, metals and magnets

As our initial focus, the Mycterials project aimed to challenge the traditional mold-based shaping of fungal materials. Hoping to scale up fungal biomaterials for  architecture, we began to explore the use of magnetic properties as a shaping tool.

This includes first embedding electromagnetic metals into the living, laboratory harvested fungal network. The metals then allow mycelium growth to be manipulated by the pull of applied magnetic fields. If accurately targeted, the biomaterial would take shape according to this magnetic pull. A weak magnetic field could be used to move the metal particles gradually, or alternatively a strong magnetic force could be used in rounds, allowing the fungus to regrow and adjust to its new shape between the iterations. 

We grew mycelium together with ferromagnetic iron filings, and moved cut out pieces of fungus with magnets.

Let’s heat things up

Mycelium requires high temperature baking before use as a rigid biomaterial. This heating is usually performed by backing mycelium in ovens, which limits the shape and size of mycelium structures. We therefore need an alternative strategy if we are to build with mycelium without mass-ovens. 

The embedded metal elements into mycelium would not only allow magnetic manipulation, but for the material to be solidified using contactless induction melting. The mycelium-metal mixture would be placed within an induction heater, and the changes in directed magnetic fields cause conductive metal particles to rotate and generate heat. This causes metal to melt, and mycelium to bake. The technique is already used in the metal industry, and could be directly adopted into mycelium biomaterial production. 

A programmable biomaterial?

No biotechnology project is complete without a possibility for software development and programmability. Similarly to 3D printing, we would like mycelium growth to be predictable and controllable using pre-made designs. One strategy would use induction coils/magnets attached to programmable robots. Programmable robotic arms or hovering drones would direct mycelium growth into 3D shapes based on designed software. The computer software would translate proposed structural ideas into a pattern of magnetic field alterations. Subsequently, the robot would make these alterations into the growing mycelium and create yet unforeseen mycelium artefacts.


Mycterials prototype displayed at the 2018 Biodesign Challenge, NYC

Although based on previous research, our project is currently theoretical and a vast amount of material research and engineering will be required to realise these ambitious visions.

If you’d like to work with us or have any feedback, please feel free to contact us. We’d love to hear from you!