Imagine one day, you’ll have a polo shirt that self-heal when you apply water on it. Or own jeans that you can fix without sewing. Or watch NASA astronauts with space suits that not only self-heal, but also protect them from harmful effects of an extraterrestrial world.
Researchers from Penn State, in an interview with the university’s website, reveal that they’ve created a material that could one day help protect farmers and factory workers from harmful chemicals, and shield soldiers from chemical or biological attacks in the field.
Clothes we wear are made of wool and silk, and they are expensive says researcher and professor Melik C. Demirel of engineering science and mechanics. Plus, some of them have shorter than expected wash-and-wear lifespan.
With the study, Demirel and the team are looking for a way to make people’s clothing self-heal using only conventional textiles.
Gift from squid
The world we live in today can be dangerous, especially in places that are considered ‘ heavily polluted,’ like in many Chinese cities.
Many toxic substances can enter our body through our skin, like Organophosphates, say the research team. It is used for herbicides and insecticides, and can enter our body through the skin. “(It) can be lethal,” the team wrote.
With their self-healing clothing technology, many people could limit exposure to such harmful chemicals.
The team used squid teeth proteins as coating for conventional garments. If the material is torn–for instance, jeans with a cut–the owner just need to put the edges together, apply warm water, and it will not only heal, but also become stronger and flexible.
The procedure is simple, the team adds. A regular cloth is dipped in a series of liquids which will create the “layers of materials” for self-healing.
During the the layering process, enzymes can be incorporated into the coating. For the research, the team used urease, the enzyme that can break urea into ammonia and carbon dioxide. Demirel explains that the self-healing clothing can have an encapsulated enzyme that degrade the toxin before it reaches the skin.
He also adds that the coatings are thin–less than a micron–so they would be unnoticeable. Although they’re thin, they can increase the overall strength of the base material.
The US Army and Navy research programs supported the study, so it is safe to say that it wasn’t designed for consumers, yet.
Mid-article image courtesy of Demirel Lab / Penn State.