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There is no shortage of news regarding innovations in wearables. In fact, we have a whole section dedicated to the topic. However, there has never before been a wearable that automatically adapts its insulating properties to changes in its environment.
Gating infrared radiation
Now, University of Maryland researchers have created the first ever fabric to do just that. More specifically, the newly-developed fabric adapts to its surrounding conditions by either allowing infrared radiation to pass through when warm and reducing the escape of heat when cold.
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"This is the first technology that allows us to dynamically gate infrared radiation," said YuHuang Wang, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UMD and one of the paper's corresponding authors who directed the studies.
What they mean by "gating" is the fabric's ability to let heat through or block it. To achieve this unique property, the fabric is engineered with a specially designed yarn coated with a conductive metal.
When heat or humidity is present, the yarn compacts and activates the coating which blocks infrared radiation. However, when cold is present, the opposite reaction occurs allowing the infrared radiation to go through.
The scientists claim the reaction is so quick that the garment could be adapting before the wearer even has time to notice the change of temperature.
Regulating the human body radiator
"The human body is a perfect radiator. It gives off heat quickly," said Min Ouyang, a professor of physics at UMD and the paper's other corresponding author.
"For all of history, the only way to regulate the radiator has been to take clothes off or put clothes on. But this fabric is a true bidirectional regulator."
Before you get too excited about this fabric that may perpetually keep us all in ideal temperature conditions, it should be noted that it is not yet ready to be commercialized. However, the materials needed to make it are readily available.
"This pioneering work provides an exciting new switchable characteristic for comfort-adjusting clothing," said Ray Baughman, a professor of chemistry at the University of Texas who was not involved in the study.
And, adds Baughman, these clothes, when and if developed, would really be a world first.
"Textiles were known that increase porosity in response to sweat or increasing temperature, as well as textiles that transmit the infrared radiation associated with body temperatures. However, no one before had found a way to switch both the porosity and infrared transparency of a textile so as to provide increased comfort in response to environmental conditions," said Baughman.
The study is published in the journal Science.