Published: Feb. 9, 2022

Shanel Wu  bends over by a log. Wu wove the vest she is wearing on a traditional 4-shaft floor loom, integrating digital air quality sensors for outdoor workers in polluted environments.Industry and academic researchers around the world are rapidly developing e-textiles, in which clothing, upholstery, bedding or other fabrics are integrated with electronics that support health, self-expression, the prevention of disease transmission, among many other functions. Given the growth,  ATLAS researcher Shanel Wu (they/them/their) is tackling how to reduce the waste from this expanding industry by investigating design practices that make it easier to recycle or reuse electronics and the textiles in which they are embedded.

Now a PhD candidate, having completed their comprehensive exam on January 28, Wu's doctoral dissertation has the working title, "Retooling Smart Textiles for Coproduction: A Design Orientation Towards Sustainability." 

"Textiles are the most beautiful, diverse form of computing," says Wu, a self-taught textiles craftsperson with a degree in physics and computers.

Advised by Assistant Professor Laura Devendorf and a member of the Unstable Design Lab,  Wu's research incorporates sustainable design strategies such as disassembly and reuse, techniques from textiles handcrafts and critical design theories that keep historical context and social justice in view. They work on woven smart textiles and handweaving circuitry with a variety of weaving tools. They wove the vest pictured on the right on a traditional four-shaft floor loom, integrating digital air quality sensors for outdoor workers in polluted environments.

Wu's proposed work to complete their dissertation will involve creating a hardware control system for a computerized digital Jacquard loom that can highlight and enable more traditional weaving techniques while inviting users to experiment with innovative textiles. Interested in creating design tools for diverse communities to realize their visions for sustainable futures, Wu will be seeking input and collaboration with local weavers and craftspeople from all backgrounds.