Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Welcome to the world of Smart Textiles

When you last went clothes shopping, you probably only noticed the fabric of a shirt or pants’ color, and texture.  Perhaps a price tag and maybe washability caught your interest too.  But, it's all about to get a lot more technical.  Clothes don't just look good, they're starting to think for you as well.
Fabrics have become an arena for competition for scientists all around the world. The race is on to be the first to develop new fabrics that will not only keep you warm but also cool, dry, moisturized and free of bacteria, odor and stains while measuring your heart rate. Welcome to the world of Smart Textiles.

The fundamental job of clothes is to keep us warm or cool, so it's no surprise that many of the smart textiles entering the market look to regulate ones body temperature as opposed to creating a barrier between ourselves and the environment.
Called phase-change fabrics, heat-modifying textiles are mostly seen in outdoor gear and pro sports gear.
Remember the swimsuits made with water repellant nano textiles which were so controversial during the last  summer Olympics?
You are most likely also familiar with Keflar, the textile now most commonly used for creating bullet proof clothing.  But, the technologies of Nano Textiles are growing exponentially and the applications are far and wide. 

*Fabrics which conduct electricity are also springing up as well as electrical insulating fabrics.
*In Europe you can buy jackets that are wired up to monitor your body temperature and also listen to your inbuilt mp3 player. 
*A sensor system for cut-protection clothing Is now available that will make working with power tools safer and more comfortable.

Nano-Textiles or Smart Fabrics also have a wide range of potential applications within the medical and healthcare related fields too.  Textiles that can be individually loaded and regenerated with drugs and medicines are common and on the rise.  Nicotine patches are a great example.  Even hospitals and medical labs are now seeing Smart Fabrics as essential and are commonly integrated within the design of hospitals and medical labs and other ‘clean rooms’. New nano-treated textiles which will kill the MRSA superbug have been developed for the purpose of being used in hospital drapes, bed linens and upholstery.

Maryland Institute College of Art is already world reknown for its Fiber Arts Department and has recently been cited as a leader in the Nano-Textile R&D in further development of Smart Fabrics, in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University.  Together, they are  blurring the lines between the Science and Art of Smart Fabrics:  Exploring new innovative and creative applications for these materials:

“ranging from high fashion to medicine and the military. The military has a vest for soldiers in combat where it is directly connected with the Internet and computers so if a soldier gets shot, information is given about where he was shot and what kind of injury it is. It is communicated with a physical computer in a hospital. There are also sports bras and T-shirts where there is a flexible heart-monitoring device, so it gives you your heart rate as you exercise."

The students recently showcased their final projects in a Wearable Technology Fashion Show in China in conjunction with the Fashion Department at Donghua University in Shanghai, China, and will exhibit at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, with a full collaboration beginning in September.

For more info, follow these links.


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