Infrared-sensing, auto-cooling fabric knows you're too hot before you do

Federico Mansilla
Febrero 12, 2019

Researchers from the University of Maryland (UMD) have created a material that can automatically regulate the amount of heat that passes through it.

The opposite effect occurs in cool conditions, when the textile is cold or dry: the fibers expand, reducing gaps to prevent heat from escaping. In the summer when the conditions are warm and humid, for example, the fabric adjusts so that infrared radiation can pass through, helping keep the wearer cool. In the process, pores open up through the fabric, allowing more heat to escape.

The base yarn for this new textile is created with fibres made of two different synthetic materials - one absorbs water and the other repels it.

The analysts made the fabric from exceptionally engineered yarn covered with a conductive metal.

Scientists have said that the new fabric needs more work before it is commercially exploited, but all of its materials are already available on the market, and even its production will not face technical difficulties. The strands are coated with carbon nanotubes, a special class of lightweight, carbon-based, conductive metal.

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What they mean by "gating" is the fabric's ability to let heat through or block it. The idea is, when water (i.e. sweat) gets absorbed by half of each fiber, it distorts the fibers so they come closer together. Second, and most importantly, it modifies the electromagnetic coupling between the carbon nanotubes in the coating.

"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. "It gives off heat quickly", said co-lead author Professor Min Ouyang, a researcher at the University of Maryland.

"When the fibres are brought closer together, the radiation they interact with changes".

When heat or humidity is present, the yarn compacts and activates the coating which blocks infrared radiation.

The allowing and blocking of the infrared rays is based as per the tuning. The advancement was accounted for in the February 8, 2019 issue of the journal Science. The reaction is nearly instant, so before people realise they're getting hot, the garment could already be cooling them down. As the body cools down (and is less sweaty or humid), the dynamic thermal gating mechanism works in reverse to trap heat. "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 content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of this organization.

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