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Stanford scientists develop a fabric that cools

September 9th, 2016 / By: / What's New?

Photo: Stanford University
Photo: Stanford University

Researchers at Stanford University have developed a fabric, using nanotechnology, that can literally cool down the wearer’s body. Potential advantages, they say, include cutting down on air-conditioning in a steadily warming world.

The development was recently reported in the journal Science. The Stanford team was led by professor Yi Cui of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

While other fabrics allow heat and moisture to escape the body, the new material uniquely allows heat-generating infrared radiation to escape, too. As a result, the team reports, the body should feel some 4.8 degrees (2.7 degrees Celsius) cooler than cotton and 3.8 degrees (2.1 degrees Celsius) cooler than commercially available synthetics.

Cui’s team used a commercially available plastic used in lithium-ion batteries called nanoporous polyethylene, or nanoPE. Similar to the plastic wrap used in the kitchen, it does a good job of allowing infrared radiation to escape the body. However, it also allows visible light to escape, which means you can see through it. The team worked at changing the pore size of the material and added other chemicals, allowing the heat and moisture out, but not visible light. Regulations have prevented testing the clothing on actual humans, and other scientists cite potential drawbacks.

The researchers also tried to make nanoPE more wearable than plastic wrap by coating it with a water-wicking chemical, punching holes in it to make it breathable, and layering it with cotton mesh. Now, the team is working on weaving the fabric to make it feel more like traditional textiles.