Science Finally Gets Fashionable

November 13, 2007

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Runway models could be wearing bulletproof, glow-in-the-dark, smog-fighting and flu-preventing garments on the catwalk, as scientists work to integrate style and comfort with safety and health in clothing.

Light Up My Life In our fast-paced society, many motorists often operate over the speed limit, making it more dangerous for the pedestrians, joggers, cyclists and easy riders. Oftentimes, accidents occur because the driver didn't see the pedestrian, jogger or cyclist.

To boost safety, researchers at the University of Manchester have developed high-tech, battery-operated textile yarns that can make clothing glow in the dark.

"The latest yarns developed by the William Lee Innovation Centre (WLIC) are made from electroluminescent (EL) yarns, allowing the wearer to be more permanently visible and therefore improves personal safety," according to AZOM. When powered sufficiently, EL yarn emits light.

AZOM notes:

The yarn consists of an inner conductive core yarn, coated with EL ink — which means it emits light when an electric current is passed through it — and a protective transparent encapsulation, with an outer conductive yarn wrapped around it. When an inverter powers the EL yarn, the resultant electrical field between the inner and outer conductor causes the EL coating to emit light. The emission of light occurs between the contact points between the outer yarn and the inner yarn.

EL_yarn_garment_Manchester.aspx EL yarn garment on a dummy against Manchester night cityscape Credit: The William Lee Innovation Centre (University of Manchester)

Whereas current high-visibility products — such as those used by emergency services, cyclists and highway maintenance workers — depend on external light sources to make them visible and are thus rendered ineffective in low-light situations, the latest WLIC development allows the wearer to be permanently visible and thus improves personal safety.

No Bugs, Please Two new garments in the "Glitterati" line designed by Olivia Ong, a senior design major at Cornell University, can prevent colds, the flu and other viruses: a two-tone gold dress and a metallic jacket. Both are known as "functional clothing," which is growing in popularity.

"The upper part of the dress is made from cotton coated with silver nanoparticles that deactivate bacteria and viruses," according to Popular Science. This might be particularly useful for those working in health-care facilities who every day try to avoid exposure and passing-along of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and other threatening microbes.

Also, it never needs washing.

The second garment destroys harmful gases and protects the wearer from smog and air pollution. The jacket's hood, sleeves and pockets "contain palladium nanoparticles that act like tiny catalytic converters to break down harmful components of air pollution," adds Popular Science. Clothing able to accomplish this would help some asthma patients and people who have compromised pulmonary abilities.

nanotech_fashionable_garments.jpg A Cornell student models garments coated with smog-busting palladium nanoparticles Credit: Dr. Hong Dong/Cornell University

"We think this is one of the first times that nanotechnology has entered the fashion world," fiber science assistant professor Juan Hinestroza told the university newspaper in May.

Bug-repellent shirts, anti-microbial underwear and stain-resistant trousers are already on the market.

Let the Bullets Fly You might have heard of Kevlar, Twaron or Dyneema bulletproof vests, and a growing number of shooting survivors thank their lucky stars for them. Now engineers in Australia have designed "a new bulletproof material that actually rebounds the force of a bullet," reports the Institute of Physics.

Because the earlier-invented materials spread the force, wearers could suffer bruising or, worse, damage to critical organs.

The latest advance, however, involves the use of elastic carbon nanotubes that not only stop bullets from penetrating — but actually rebound their force, according to a research paper in the IOP's Nanotechnology.

The elasticity of carbon nanotubes means that blunt force trauma may be avoided, which is why engineers from the Centre for Advanced Materials at the University of Sydney have undertaken experiments to find the optimum point of elasticity for the most effective bullet-bouncing gear.

"By investigating the force-repelling properties of carbon nanotubes and concluding on an optimum design, we may produce far more effective bulletproof materials," Prof. Liangchi Zhang and Dr. Kausala Mylvaganam from the Centre for Advanced Materials Technology in Sydney, said in a statement. "The dynamic properties of the materials we have found means that a bullet can be repelled with minimum or no damage to the wearer of a bulletproof vest."

Nanotubes are made from graphite, which is (along with diamond) one of two common formsnew_bulletproof_repelling_materials.jpg carbon takes in nature.

(Image credit, right: Institute of Physics)

Let the Bullets Fly, Pt. II In a place far away from Sydney, Australia, researchers at the University of Cambridge, England, have developed a new type of carbon fiber that is made up of millions of tiny carbon nanotubes and "could be woven into super-strong body armor for the military and law enforcement," reports BBC News.

"These nanotube fibers possess characteristics which enable them to be woven as cloth, or incorporated into composite materials to produce super-strong products," said Professor Alan Windle of the University of Cambridge.

According to BBC News:

The researchers say their material is already several times stronger, tougher and stiffer than fibres [sic] currently used to make protective armour [sic].

The new material could also find applications in the area of hi-tech "smart" clothing, bombproof refuse bins and flexible solar panels. The work at Cambridge has already attracted interest from the UK Ministry of Defence and the U.S. Army.

Fashionable Metals As if the high prices of many metals weren't enough to fret about, some fashion setters are turning to stainless steel and aluminum to create an impression.

A $110 stainless steel wallet, for instance, boasts high durability and to the touch feels like silk, according to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Missouri paper mentions resistance to corrosive materials, too, but unless you work in parts cleaning or a chem. lab with acids and caustics, I can't see this as being a huge selling point for this creative endeavor.

There is also a line of woven steel handbags and clutch purses. "Each bag of woven stainless steel features unique details such as 24K gold plating, 23K gold leaf, copper, brass and more," according to the article. Cost: $150 to $300.

Alternatively, you can pick up a $90 crocheted shoulder bag made with more than 700 recycled aluminum pull-tabs. Recycling has a good reputation these days, and I can see this item as a good conversation starter.


High-tech Textiles Pave the Way for Glowing Garments University of Manchester, Oct. 26, 2007

Clothes that Glow in the Dark AZOM, Oct. 29, 2007

Student Designer and Fiber Scientists Create a Dress that Prevents Colds and a Jacket that Destroys Noxious Gases by Anne Ju Cornell Chronicle, May 1, 2007

Fashion Gets Functional by Dawn Stover Popular Science, September 2007

Using Nanotech to Make Robocops Institute of Physics, Oct. 30, 2007

Ballistic Resistance Capacity of Carbon Nanotubes by Kausala Mylvaganam and L C Zhang Nanotechnology, Oct. 17, 2007 (Print publication: Issue 47, Nov. 28, 2007)

Using Nanotech to Make RoboCops, Oct. 31, 2007

Super-Strong Body Armour in Sight by Paul Rincon BBC News, Oct. 23, 2007

Are Stainless Steel and Aluminum in Fashion's Future? The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (via ASM International), Oct. 27, 2007

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