Scientists have developed a new fabric that can tell if you’re too hot or too cool and adjust accordingly. This new adaptive fabric, developed by researchers from the University of Maryland, College Park, reacts to temperature and humidity using infrared-sensitive yarn that expands and contracts based on body temperature and outside conditions. The invention has been described in a new research paper published in Science.
The team of researchers, led by YuHuang Wang and Ouyang Min, aimed to design a fabric that would adjust from hot, humid conditions to cold, dry conditions without any interaction from the wearer. They ended up creating a fabric that actively manages the amount of infrared radiation that passes through it. Human bodies absorb and lose heat primarily via infrared radiation.
The fabric is comprised of dual-action threads made of polymer fibers covered with a thin layer of carbon nanotubes. When the fabric encounters humid conditions, the strands of the fabric begin to warp, making the fabric more breathable and promoting the escape of infrared radiation. When encountering cooler conditions, the fabric returns to its original, denser shape. The researchers say the adaptive fabric was able to alter heat radiation by more than 35 percent, adjusting for relative humidity.
The ultimate goal is to be able to create clothing that can monitor our comfort without us doing anything. While the new adaptive fabric is a breakthrough, it may still be some time before the fabric is used for consumer items. The researchers have been working with textile-manufacturing experts to continue developing the adaptive fabric. They hope to begin testing it in clothing later this year.
According to the researchers, once the fabric is ready they plan to scale up production using existing methods currently used to manufacture other performance fabrics. The materials for the base fibers are already readily available and they do not foresee an issue with using the fabric with existing manufacturing machines.