While manufacturing draws to the mind images of factories and machines, two Penn researchers are revolutionizing the industry with technology that connects biology and manufactured goods.
Former Penn doctorate student and teaching assistant Karen Hogan and current School of Design professor Orkan Telhan founded their startup, Biorealize, in 2015. Housed within the Pennovation Center, the company mainly serves to create tools that help ease the process of biofabrication. Biofabrication uses biological materials like cells and proteins to manufacture products such as biodegradable packaging, fermented food and beverages, and animal cell culturing.
Telhan said he sees their work in biofabrication as helping to improve the United States manufacturing industry.
“Right now, there are a couple of problems with manufacturing: centralized, highly dependent on petrochemicals, and it's done other places than here," he said. "Biofabrication addresses all of them.”
Telhan added that he believes the growth of biomanufacturing can also help bring manufacturing jobs from foreign countries back to the United States.
Since its inception, Biorealize has launched two products. Their newest product B | Reactor, released in early October, is a round cylindrical tool that helps designers create and model goods that use micro-organisms. At seven by seven inches and powered by battery, the tool is portable, something that Hogan and Telhan said they see as an advantage.
B | Reactor is a newer and smaller version of the pair's first product launched in 2015 called the Microbial Design Studio, Telhan said. Hogan said B | Reactor is currently in preliminary testing and will be delivered to customers in several months.
In April, Biorealize partnered with MIT Design Lab and PUMA in a week-long showcase of wearables that incorporated living organisms, the startup's website stated.
In fall 2017, Hogan and Telhan co-taught a fine arts course called "Biological Design," which applied scientific concepts to manufactured products. Some students in the course created glasses that resembled the irises of a person's eye.
For Hogan, Biorealize’s work expands the scope of manufacturing and opens up new possibilities.
“You can do things with life you can’t necessarily do with chemicals”, she said, citing treatments such as advanced chemotherapies that require work with living organisms.