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Researchers Roll Out New Fabric which Insulates in Response to Environmental Conditions

By CIOReview | Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Until now there had been no fabric that changes its insulation properties in accordance with the environment, except some gloves and hats that promise high-tech thermal regulation. This high-tech thermal regulation ability keeps marathon runners cool and alpine hikers warm. But now, a group of researchers from the University of Maryland has developed a type of fabric that can automatically regulate the amount of heat passes through it, that is, it allows more heat to pass through in warm, moist conditions and reduces heat emission in colder, dryer conditions. 

The secret of this behavior lies in its string. The specially engineered yarn designed of a conductive metal. Under hot, humid conditions, the strands of yarn compact and activate the coating that changes the way fabric interacts with the infrared radiation. This action is referred to as gating of infrared radiation that can transmit or block heat. It is marked as the first technology that allows dynamic gating of infrared radiation.

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The base yarn of the fabric is designed with fibers made of two different synthetic materials, one absorbs water, and the other repels it. The strands are coated with a unique class lightweight, carbon-based conductive material carbon nanotubes. The fibers wrap when exposed to humidity both resist and absorb water because of the material inside. The knot brings the strands of yarn close together which do open the pores in the fabric —has a cooling effect— enables heat to escape and adapts the electromagnetic coupling between the carbon nanotubes in the coating. 

The coupling effect is like the bending of a radio antenna to change the wavelength or frequency it resonates with. Just like two antennas bringing together to regulate the kind of electromagnetic wave they pick up, the fibers are brought together and the radiation they interact with changes. In clothing, the fabric communicates with the heat radiating from the human body.

Following the tuning, the fabric either blocks infrared radiation or allows it to pass through. This reaction is instant before the human body senses hot the garment could cool them down. Vise versa as the body cools down the dynamic mechanism works in reverse to capture the heat.

This breakthrough research output provides an exciting new switchable characteristic for comfort adjusting cloth. In history, no one had found a way to switch temperatures and infrared transparency of fabric to provide increased comfort in response to environmental conditions.

Materials used for the base textile are readily available, and the carbon coating can be easily added during the standard dyeing process, but more work is need before commercialization of it although the fabric may be worth the wait. 

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