The world of fiber has long been affiliated with the world of technology. Fusing together, they create textiles useful in problem solving and climbing the technological ladder. Examples of this are seen largely in the scientific world, where fabrics are used for everything from environmental protection to medical advancements. Below, I have listed some contemporary feats in the world of advanced textiles.
- Thermochromic Fibers, Courtesy of Csiro -
Wound Detecting Bandages. Csiro is a company located in Australia that is focused on creating smart fibers. One interesting advancement is their wound detecting bandage that uses thermochromic liquid crystalline material to visibly relay changes in wound healing. Thermochromic liquid crystalline is exactly what is sounds like once you get past the fancy scientific cadence of the word. It is a crystal that is both a liquid and a solid. The nature of this crystal is that it changes color based on temperature changes. It is able to do this when the crystal molecules change in distance to each other when heated or cooled and the color that is reflected is dependent on this distance. The substance is liquid enough that it can be used to dye fabrics, which makes it wearable and accessible.
Csiro has made this into a fiber that they are using as bandages. When the bandage is applied to a wound, it can detect even the smallest change in temperature, changing the color of the fabric. This allows for developing infections to be detected right away. This is especially helpful for individuals with chronic wounds that are difficult to monitor. The smart bandage accomplishes this without any invasive prodding.
Anti-bacterial/Odor Fabrics. PurThread is an organization dedicated to creating anti fungal and bacterial fabrics that can be used for home and clothing purposes. The science behind it has roots in silver. Silver is long known for its antimicrobial properties. The metal is toxic to bacteria cells in a way that it is not to us. It is done by interrupting a chemical bond essential in the cells’ survival. PurThread has interwoven silver salt particles into the thread of cotton to make it a homogeneous component of the fabric. Odor and bacterial cells literally fall apart when they come in contact with the metal, which doesn’t weaken or wash away. This could be the beginning of the end for one time shirt wearing before tossing it into the void that is your hamper.
- Microscopic view of silver particles throughout fibers, Courtesy of Purthread -
Oleo Sponge. Remember the Deep Horizon oil spill in 2010? Whose oil is still contaminating the Gulf of Mexico? Well, traditionally with oil spills, the cleanup is doable as long as the oil is at the surface of the water. Methods such as burning or skimming are pretty useless when it sinks below the surface. Thirty percent of the oil from the 2010 spill is unaccounted for, and is most likely at the bottom of the ocean floor. This is where the Oleo sponge comes in. Recent technology has allowed for the creation of a sponge that can absorb up to 90 times its weight in oil. The sponge is made of polyurethane and covered with a molecule that draws out the oil. Scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory found a way to stick these molecules to the inside of a sponge, which has allowed for the impressive absorption. The sponge is also reusable. It can be wrung out numerous times and doesn’t deteriorate. You can even reuse the oil that was captured. The sponge is close to perfect and it is said to be ready for widespread use in five years.
- Oleo sponge, photo courtesy of Ars Technica -
Vantablack is an intriguing new material developed by Surrey Nanosystems. The absolute darkest substance created, Vantablack absorbs more than 99% of all light in its surroundings. This is possible by creating a coating that consists of millions of densely packed carbon nanotubes, in a high heat chamber. A carbon nanotube is about 3500 times smaller than a strand of hair. It can not even be measured with a spectrometer, which is unprecedented. Vantablack is not necessarily a material, but a coating. It needs a surface in order to be applied and works well with the use of fabric, but only fabrics that can withstand high heat (which is why it can’t be used on clothing).
- Photo Courtesy of My Modern Net -
Unfortunately, Surrey Nanosystems stated, “Vantablack is generally not suitable for use in art due to the way in which it’s made.” There are actually a few reasons why the material should not be touched at all. It is easily damaged by any impact or abrasion. Touching it apparently doesn’t feel like anything because the nanotubes create a lot of free space, so it would be the same as touching whatever surface it’s applied to. Although this is true, there have been some artists and luxury labels that have access to the coating. The Swiss watch brand, MCT, have created a $95,000 watch coated in Vantablack. Only parts of it that is, because the coating is difficult to work with.
An exciting discovery is that Vantablack could have many beneficial properties for energy conservation. One of which being a means to increase the efficiency of solar panels.
To understand how solar panels work, one needs to understand the photovoltaic effect. The photovoltaic effect takes place when a material absorbs light energy, which in turn excites electrons to a higher-electric state. This creates a voltage that is stored in the material. The excited electrons jump to a conduction belt if presented, which are attached to wires that carry the electricity. Essentially, these cells are responsible for converting sunlight into electricity. All of this takes place on a solar panel, which is the device that allows for the photovoltaic effect to take place by storing the photovoltaic cells.
Now it’s easier to discuss how Vantablack can help increase the productivity of solar panels. Initially, black silicone has been added to the back of solar panels to aid the absorption of light. This works because dark materials absorb light and light materials reflect light. Vantablack, being the darkest material known, will significantly increase the efficiency of solar panels by capturing more light for the cells to convert.
The BioSuit. NASA is collaborating with MIT engineers, Trotti and Associates (an industrial design firm) and students from the Rhode Island School of Design to create the new and improved space suit. Understanding the need for multidisciplinary members, the team is the perfect balance of design and math.
The BioSuit is form fitting and pressurized, which solves the lack of mobility issue that the original gas filled suit had. Allowing for astronauts to use their hands and move their heads makes fiddling with machinery much easier. It’s safer than the previous design as well, in terms of handling abrasions. Along with the innovations of the team, researchers from previous eras have largely influenced the design of the suit. Taking notes from an anatomist’s map of tension in the body, they have come to an agreement on the perfect design for ultimate mobility. The initial layer of the piece is an elastic compression suit covered by a soft exoskeleton that is mathematically mapped with sturdy lines. The elastic allows for the proper compression necessary in surviving in outer space. This is possible by incorporating small coils that contract in response to heat. The exoskeleton provides flexibility, and the lines allow for further joint movement. This combination brings NASA’s team very close to developing the most efficient space suit in existence. It is still being perfected, but is a promising technological advancement.
Csiro. “case study: Smart Bandages Reveal Healing.” February 2015.
PurThread Technology, “The Science of Silver” “Silver: Natures Antimicrobial.”
Geuss, Megan. “Oleo Sponge Invented at Argonne National Laboratory can Sop Up Oil in a Spill.” Ars Technica. March 2017.
Surrey Nanosystems. Vantablack. Faqs.
Dhar, Michael. “How do Solar Panels Work?” Live Science. December 2013.
Newman, Dava. “Building the Future Space Suit” Nasa 2015.