New textile weathers temperature shift

Reversible fabrics of the future may keep you comfortable in any weather

microscope images of smart textile

HOT N’ COLD  Carbon (left) and copper (right) in a new smart textile help release or trap heat to keep the body comfortable across a greater range of temperatures than standard fabrics.

P.-C. Hsu et al/Sciences Advances 2017

Weather changes, but thanks to a new high-tech textile, someday you may not have to switch out your outfit.

Materials scientists and engineers at Stanford University have developed a multilayered textile that traps body heat on one side and passively radiates heat away from the body when flipped inside out. The material kept artificial skin within a comfortable range of 32° to 36° Celsius as the ambient temperature fluctuated by up to 9 degrees, the researchers reported November 10 in Science Advances.

Under a microscope, the textile looks like a gnarly sandwich. Layers of nanoporous polyethylene, or nanoPE, hug two layers: a rough, porous carbon and a smoother, tighter copper. When the carbon faces away from the body and a thin nanoPE layer is near the skin, the textile is in cooling mode. Body heat can easily escape through the carbon structure. In experiments, the textile lowered the temperature of artificial skin by about 3 degrees.

FUTURE FABRIC Copper (metallic) and carbon (black) layers sandwiched between nanoporous plastic trap body heat or let it escape depending on which side is closest to the skin.Yi Cui group/Stanford Univ.
To warm the body, the fabric is reversed so that the copper layer — which doesn’t let body heat easily escape — faces out, and a thick nanoPE layer is near the skin. In warming mode, the artificial skin heated up by about 4 degrees. This sandwich design adds heating and refined cooling capabilities to nanoPE, a cooling fabric that the Stanford team developed in 2016 ( SN: 10/1/16, p. 9 ). Though the new plastic-based material is not ready to wear, the team is developing a fiber-based version “that has a much similar touch and feeling to traditional textiles,” says mechanical engineer and study coauthor Po-Chun Hsu.

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