University of Maryland Researchers Create Fabric With Environment-Dependent Insulation

Researchers at the University of Maryland have developed a new fabric that would make your body cooler when the weather warms up.

The new textile regulates its insulation capabilities when exposed to different environments, according to the school’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Through coating polymer yarns with a conductive metal, researchers found that infrared radiation can be “gated”—a term that means it can transmit or block heat.

“This is the first technology that allows us to dynamically gate infrared radiation,” YuHuang Wang, a University of Maryland professor of chemistry and biochemistry and a coauthor of the paper, said in a statement.

Wang and other scientists conducted research that contributed to the report, called “Dynamic Gating of Infrared Radiation in a Textile,” released Feb. 8 by Science, a journal published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Within the yarn exist two synthetic components. Each one has a different relationship with water—one that absorbs and a second that repels. The triacetate-cellulose bimorph fibers are coated with a lightweight metal, which is carbon nanotubes responding to stimuli by either permitting the passage of infrared radiation or blocking the energy.

“When the fibers are brought closer together, the radiation they interact with changes,” Wang explained. “In clothing, that means the fabric interacts with the heat radiating from the human body.”

When heat and humidity rise, these yarn fibers compress, opening their pores and releasing heat, which cools the body. As the human body cools, the process will operate in reverse to conserve heat.

The fabric can be woven, washed and dyed, researchers said. While additional studies must be conducted before the fabric is introduced for commercial use, the research team believes this new innovation could benefit the apparel industry.

“[This] fabric is a true bidirectional regulator,” said Min Ouyang, a University of Maryland physics professor and coauthor of the paper. “I think it’s very exciting to be able to apply this gating phenomenon to the development of a textile that has the ability to improve the functionality of clothing and other fabrics.”