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Catching up with nature

September 27th, 2021 / By: / My Take

by Janet Preus

A relatively new success story in the world of advanced textiles is that of phase change materials. They’ve even earned their own acronym – PCMs, which, in fact covers quite a range of materials designed to provide specific functionalities by responding to various environmental conditions. At the heart of PCMs are the fibrous structures used and the technologies that combine materials in unique ways. 

It’s mind boggling to me. 

Our feature by Seshadri Ramkumar, “Material advances: the next phase,” takes an interesting look at a variety of material advancements that are driving this market and continually offering improvements, as well. 

The trouble, as you may know if you spend any time at all outdoors doing something physically active, is that clothing that keeps you warm can make you too warm, and then you sweat, you get wet, and then you’re cold. Enough warmth, enough cooling, enough moisture wicking … these are just some of the characteristics that scientists have been studying to create a relatively new sector in the advance textiles industry. 

Scientists for decades – well millennia, actually – have been studying nature to figure out how a squid camouflages itself, how feathers and down keep a goose warm and dry, how water beads up on certain plants, but not others – and so on! In an effort to not just know how these “functionalities” work in the natural world, but to copy them, the field of biomimicry was born. It’s one of the paths scientists have taken to develop PCMs that can both heat and cool.  

When I take my dog out for a walk, she seems to be able to stay cool enough for the exercise in summer, and warm enough in the winter. Given the climate in Minnesota, I have to dress differently every time I go outside. She always looks at me like she’s baffled by how long it takes me to get ready for her romp in the woods. Maybe this sort of interaction is what prompted scientists to ask, “If animals can automatically respond to changing environmental conditions, why can’t we?” 

The answer is, “now we can.” 

Janet Preus is senior editor of Advanced Textiles Source. She can be reached at jlpreus@ifai.com.