As 2016 goes on record as the hottest year, scientists at Stanford University have created a material that could potentially make the coolest clothes.
The high-tech fabric can block the sun’s rays and circulate body heat better than cotton or other traditional fabrics, the Los Angeles Times reports. When the material was draped on a dummy that simulated the response of human skin during extremely warm temperatures, the artificial skin’s temperature rose by only 0.8 degrees Celsius. That was much less than the 3.5 degree Celsius increase for cotton or 2.9 degrees Celsius for polyethylene – the material sportswear is made of.
Wearing a shirt, pants and a hat of this revolutionary material would feel like standing under a large tree sans clothing.
The material is made of a nanoporous kind of polyethylene, and should it be implemented, would usher in a new period of “personalized cooling,” according to Svetlana V. Boriskina, an MIT nanoengineer, who wrote an accompanying article on the study.
The material could likewise herald savings in energy by decreasing the need for air conditioning, she adds. It could also be used in tents, vehicles, and even construction, and could drop energy levels required to cool a building by as much as 45%, she says.
The cloth works by scattering certain wavelengths of light in the same way the sky turns blue. It also uses the same principles that make a Saharan ant keep cool even in the extreme desert heat. At normal skin temperatures, most of the heat that radiates off the body is in the infrared part of the light spectrum. In lab tests, only 15% of the infrared wavelengths could pass through cotton.
To stay cool, material needs to be “transparent” to infrared radiation while staying “opaque” to visible light waves. In this way, the fabric can scatter visible light so that human eyes can see it, in the same way, molecules in the atmosphere scatter blue light wavelengths, so people see the sky as blue, Boriskina explained in her essay.
The scientists at Stanford, led by Po-Chun Hsu, found a polyethylene material that fulfilled these qualifications. However, there is much to be done before this cooling technology can be brought to the garment industry.
In the meantime, fabrics with finely woven fibers can do well enough in staying cool, the researchers say.
The study was published in the journal Science.