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Jalila Essaïdi at the shooting range of the Netherlands Forensic Institute.

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Unique Art & Science collaboration: bullet-proof skin & more

25.06.2011, Age: 3774 days

Dutch artist Jalila Essaïdi, together with genetic, forensic, biotechnical and other scientists has grown human skincells on a matrix of spidersilk. The resulting bullet-proof human skin was tested at the firing range of the Dutch Forensic Institute. This art project won her the prestigious Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Award. But the spin-off was almost more important.

The name of her project, 2.6g 329m/s, is derived from the maximum weight and velocity of a traveling bullet, the performance standard for bulletproof vests. Artist Jalila Essaïdi designed a prototype for a transgenic human skin with a layer of spider silk embedded between the epidermis and dermis. Spider silk can be five times stronger than steel, yet smooth as silk: an ideal substrate to grow human skin that is strong enough to stop a bullet.

For her project she cooperated with Randy Lewis, University of Wyoming (now Utah State), who provided the spider silk that was produced by his genetically manipulated goats and silkworms, the Netherlands Forensic Institute and the University of Leiden.

Interestingly, the art project produced some unforeseen results and unexpected collaborations between scientists who otherwise would never have met. A special incubator was developed for the exhibition at the museum Naturalis, but that will now be produced for scientific purposes as well.

When scientists work with artists may produce totally unexpected results  and innovations that would never have been devoloped without this collaboration. Scientists may benefit from the interaction with the whimsical creativity that is the hallmark of artistic thinking.

In Jalila's own words:

"With this work I want to show that safety in its broadest sense is a relative concept, and hence the term bulletproof. Even if the skin would be pierced by the bullet the experiment would be a success. It would lead to the conversation about how which form of safety would benefit society."

See video of the firing experiment and the growth of the bulletproof skin in the new incubator here>>

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