The outside temperature can have a strange effect on some folks at this time of year — causing them to make a beeline for the thermostat to crank it up to uncomfortably warm levels on the spurious basis that, because it’s cold outside, it should therefore be swelteringly hot indoors to make up for it. A sympathetic team of researchers from the University of Maryland may have invented a solution, however. They have developed a 3D-printed thermally conductive textile composed of fibers made up of aligned boron nitride nanosheets, combined with polyvinyl alcohol, embedded in a polymer matrix. What that adds up to is a temperature-regulating material that’s capable of cooling a person down as they wear it.
The brand-new material is incredibly efficient at sucking heat away from the body. Compared to cotton fabric, it is twice as efficient at cooling down the person who is wearing it, and 1.5 times more efficient than pure polyvinyl alcohol, which is adept at the same task. In essence, it’s your own personal air conditioning unit — but one that requires no bulky components such as batteries or power packs.
The University of Maryland is not the only place to be working on a similar project. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), researchers have developed smart biohybrid materials for future workout clothes, which use a microbial lining to self-ventilate whenever a wearer sweats. Smart fabrics aren’t only limited to temperature control, either. At the City College of New York, investigators have developed a fabric that’s capable of not only rapidly detecting nerve gas, but also of neutralizing it.
While most of these fabrics — including the University of Maryland’s cooling fabric — remain research projects at present, they’re all part of a materials science revolution that will massively increase the functionality of our wardrobes in the years to come. And, in the case of this particular cooling material, provide a new way to solve bitter office feuds over the temperature the thermostat should be set to.
A paper describing the work, titled “Three-Dimensional Printed Thermal Regulation Textiles” was recently published in the American Chemical Society’s journal ACS Nano.