Researchers at Stanford University have created a new fabric that can be used to make clothing that cools a body far more than typical garments.
According to the researchers, the new fabric could keep a body nearly four degrees Fahrenheit cooler than a typical article of clothing, thus reducing the desire or need for air-conditioning in hot climates.
“Forty to 60 percent of our body heat is dissipated as infrared radiation when we are sitting in an office. But until now there has been little or no research on designing the thermal radiation characteristics of textiles,” Shanhui Fan, a professor of electrical engineering who specializes in photonics, told Standford News.
At its most basic, the fabric works by allowing the thermal heat the body produces to escape. Due to the texture and nature of other synthetic materials used to make clothes today, thermal is trapped, much like in a sleeping bag, and makes the body warmer.
As noted in their paper, which was published in Science, to achieve this simple, yet complex objective, the researchers started with polyethylene, commonly known as kitchen wrap. Then they used nanotechnology, chemistry, and photonics (the study of photons, such as thermal heat) to turn polyethylene into material suitable for creating clothing.
One issue they faced was making sure water could pass through the material, as is common in most clothing, to allow sweat to evaporate. Next the team “modified the industrial polyethylene by treating it with benign chemicals to enable water vapor molecules to evaporate through nanopores in the plastic,” postdoctoral student Po-Chun Hsu explained to the Stanford News.
And finally, to make clothing from the new material, they used three layers: two layers of the new polyethylene and a layer of cotton in between. The layers made the material thicker and stronger — more like clothing and less like plastic wrap.
Currently the material is still in development. “If you want to make a textile, you have to be able to make huge volumes inexpensively,” Stanford Associate Professor of materials science and engineering Yi Cui explained. Thus, the researchers are still hard at work making the material a more viable clothing alternative. Additionally, the Stanford News reported, the team is working on creating more colors, and making the material look and feel more like clothing we are familiar with.
“If you can cool the person rather than the building where they work or live, that will save energy,” Cui said.
For their innovation, for the simplicity of their design, and for their desire to create a more environmentally friendly world, we are proud to name Yi Cui, Shanhui Fan, Po-Chun Hsu, and the rest of the Stanford team our Luminaries of the week.