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Professor Genevieve Dion

Collaborations that spark new industries and change lives

Professor Genevieve Dion

She has been called an haute couture designer and a digital knitter. But the title that Genevieve Dion prefers most is "design scientist."

Dion had a stellar career as a designer of bespoke clothing and accessories even before she arrived at Drexel in 2007 to direct the fashion design program at Westphal College of Media Arts & Design. Her clients included rock stars like Tina Turner and Elvis Costello and her designs appeared in elite venues such as Barneys New York and museum collections.

At Drexel, Dion's fascination with manipulating fabric evolved from high design to high technology. She recognized that the future of fibers and textiles lay in their ability to store and transmit energy and information. Scientists were talking about "wearable electronics" with potential applications in health, energy, communications and national defense. But the field was in its infancy.

Dion, who also has a master's degree in industrial design, quickly grasped that she would need to combine her mastery of textiles and product design with expertise in biotechnology, medicine, material sciences, electronics, and computer science. And she saw Drexel as the ideal place to build those collaborations and give them a home.

Knitting as a rapid prototyping technology for industry

The fabric samples arrayed around the lab may look like knitted socks, gloves, dresses and belts, but in fact, they are prototypes for biomedical textiles, soft-robotics and garment devices.

"I like to think of computerized knitting as a form of 3-D printing. We can take one yarn and row by row, layer by layer, garments emerge in three dimension," Dion explains. The knitting done in the Haute Tech Lab is ideal for producing rapid prototypes, and the same equipment can quickly scale up designs for mass production.

Our students are the incredible thinkers of tomorrow.

"Then you start mixing in new materials, such as metal yarn for conductivity and you end up with questions such as, 'What if the fabric itself was the medical device? Comfortable, fashionable and constantly sending a stream of critical information to sensors that automatically alert the wearer, or a remote health care worker, at the first sign of a problem.'"

Questions like that led her to find partners in electrical and computer engineering and medicine. One such team has already patented wearable devices designed to measure contractions in pregnant women and respiration in premature infants. This "Bellyband" will begin clinical trials in 2018 to determine its effectiveness in warning of a potential miscarriage in women or breathing difficulties in newborns.

See a list of Drexel collaborators currently working with the Center for Functional Fabrics.

Core Collaborators Bring Wider Drexel Expertise to Functional Fabrics

This list contains only some of the major contributors to current transdisciplinary research.

David Breen, PhD, associate professor of Computer Science in the College of Computing & Informatics. develops accurate modeling and simulation software for digital knitting. He leads the Geometric Biomedical Computing Group, which develops algorithms and software that solve geometry-related computing problems for a variety of biomedical applications.

Kapil Dandekar, PhD, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the College of Engineering, is also the director of the Drexel Wireless Systems Laboratory. His expertise in wireless, ultrasonic, and optical communications, and reconfigurable antennas allows him to harness their power in functional fabrics.

Yury Gogotsi, PhD, is the Distinguished University and Charles T Ruth and Ruth M. Bach Professor of Materials Science & Engineering in the College of Engineering.  As director of Drexel’s Nanomaterials Group, one of his concentrations is integration of nanomaterials into functional fabrics for energy harvesting and storage. Gogotsi and Dion currently co-advise two PhD candidates.

Kelly Joyce, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Sociology and director of the Science, Technology, and Society program. Joyce studies the social, cultural and political dimensions of medical technology innovation. She deepens Drexel's understanding of societal views on advances in functional fabrics.

Owen Montgomery, MD, is professor and chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Drexel College of Medicine. He contributed expertise on pregnancy and miscarriage and neonatal safety in development of the Bellyband.

Youngmoo Kim, PhD, is a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the College of Engineering and director of the Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies (ExCITe) Center. Kim leverages his expertise in human-machine interfaces and robotics for expressive interaction. He also co-advises one PhD candidate with Dion.

In 2016, The U.S. Department of Defense established the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA), a $75 million institute established to rejuvenate American textile manufacturing and bring sophisticated new products to market. Drexel is a key stakeholder of AFFOA, along with MIT, Thomas Jefferson University, the Fashion Institute of Technology, North Carolina State University, and the University of Central Florida, all contributing research powerful enough to spur market innovation.

More recently, AFFOA established the Pennsylvania Fabric Discovery Center (PA FDC), also managed by Dion. The PA FDC focuses on helping companies and innovators take their advanced textile concepts from prototype to product, while also preparing the regional workforce for high quality jobs in this growing market sector.

"We are designing not just the materials of the future, but the tools of the future," emphasizes Dion. "We're pushing the boundaries of how people work together. And our students are the incredible thinkers of tomorrow. What emerges has almost limitless potential to ignite new industries."

Watch Genevieve Dion, Owen Montgomery, MD, and Kapil Dandekar, PhD, explain the life-saving potential of their BellyBand.

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