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Next up in Health Tech: Keyboards Get the Probiotic Treatment

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A designer and a biologist walk into a classroom at UPenn.

This isn't the start of a joke - it's the start of a collaborative effort that has generated such fantastical ideas as an orb spider air filter and massive blocks on the ocean floor collecting seeping methane. We sat down with two students from the innovative Biological Designs class class who have imagined some insanely creative probiotic products.

We found out about this great program in a surprising (and flattering :D ) way: while at a conference, Mother Dirt popped up in one of the presentations done by the class instructors! Naturally, this kicked off some exciting conversations. We set up a call with Becca Hallac and Vincent Snagg to talk about their experiences in the class and their thoughts on the intersection between biology and design.

Becca and Vincent spent the bulk of their course time working on a prototype of a probiotic keyboard, designed for medical care professionals. They were inspired by the health challenges nurses face - when leaving and entering every room, nurses use antibacterial products to help prevent spreading infections from patient to patient. Amidst all of the hubbub, nurses stop at their computers to enter information on their patients, typing on keyboards used by all of their colleagues - who have encountered hordes of bacteria throughout the day, and who may or may not have successfully removed the dangerous bugs from their hands.

Enter Becca and Vincent's mind-blowing solution. For their prototype, the two paired a sleek projected keyboard with a disinfectant spray and a probiotic spray. When nurses sit down to use the keyboard, a spritz of the antibacterial product shoots out and removes any remaining contaminants from the previous user. A second bottle containing a suspension of beneficial skin probiotics then returns good bacteria to the keyboard, where two major things happen. 1) The nurse's fingers pick up the good bacteria and balance is returned to their skin, and 2) the keyboard itself develops a balanced microbiome, better capable of fighting off any bad bacteria that might try to gain dominance in the biome.

Once they had thought of a solution for nurses, Becca and Vincent started wondering if there were a way to apply these concepts and technology in a more far-reaching way. Their probiotic bracelet would work similarly to the keyboard, spraying wearer's hands to bring a better microbial balance. An added feature, a variety of capsules with different bacteria in them, enables users to personalize their probiotic bracelets.

We love hearing that a premier university is invested in engaging students and educating them in such creative, biome-friendly ways, and trying to incorporate bacteria into daily life. We love love love Becca and Vincent's innovative approach. Here's to more biome-friendly brilliance ;)

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