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For sweat's sake

Soldiers may someday find comfort as well as safety in chemical-protection gear, now that researchers have created a breathable, chemical-blocking composite material.

Manufacturers commonly make protective garments out of butyl rubber, which blocks vapors and liquids. But in warm conditions, a person "might sweat to death in it," says chemist Douglas L. Gin of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

To create a breathable barrier, Gin and his colleagues turned to a lyotropic liquid crystal, which has two different ends: one water loving, the other water repelling. The researchers placed the liquid crystals in water, which caused the water-loving ends to pack together and form nanometer-scale pores. Next, the scientists blended the mixture into liquid butyl rubber. Once cured, the material consisted of a three-dimensional network of rubber and pores that contain water.

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