In a future not so far away, we’ll wear clothes that change color on command, come equipped with its own battery-powered air conditioners, are fungus- and bacteria-resistant and can even power your electronic gadgets. That’s the future of nanotech clothing — clothing that has stain-resistant or anti-bacterial properties. Basically, if you spill something, even something as bad as red wine, down the front of your nano-enhanced jacket or dress, all you have to do is wipe it off and it looks like new. Even Eddie Bauer is jumping on the bandwagon: the company is currently using embedded nanoparticles to create stain-repellent khakis. (Plus, you can save some major dough on those dry cleaning bills!)
That’s the mission of Cornell University fiber science pioneer Juan Hinestroza, who’s leading the revolution to bring high-end function to high-end fashion in Manhattan.
According to Hinestroza, in less than a decade, he expects nanotechnology to be commonplace in the clothing industry.
Hinestroza said he hopes Cornell’s bid to build a new science campus in Manhattan would connect the work he’s doing with designers in the Garment District who might be able to incorporate his cutting-edge technology with their cutting-edge designs.
Scientists can already do some pretty incredible things using tiny layers of particles just 20 nanometers thick —or 2,500 times smaller than the width of a strand of human hair.
Hinestroza shared one prototype of a face mask and athletic hoodie designed by students in his Ithaca Textiles Nanotechnology lab that uses “smart cotton” technology to trap carbon dioxide and other greenhouses gases so runners can clean the air as they breathe it. The same technology can be used to protect emergency responders and soldiers from toxic chemicals. And one of Hinestroza’s students has even designed a futuristic dress made from conductive cotton that can charge cell phones and iPods using solar power without ever needing a plug. How great would that be?!
Other projects currently in the works include:
- Sweaters that can change color at the press of a button, by changing the molecular structure of the particles the sweater is made of.
- Uniforms that cannot get wet or stained.
- Thin, cotton T-shirts so insulating they can replace the most bulky winter coats.
- Clothing with antibacterial properties. While it is already being used by the US Army, it is expected to become common in surgical gowns soon.
- Invisible markers that can be used to identify counterfeit materials, such as a real Gucci purse, from a fake.
- And even a Harry Potter-esque real-life invisibility cloak — as long as those looking are doing so with night-vision goggles. The cloak scrambles infrared waves to appear invisible to those wearing the goggles.
While most of the applications are still far from being ready for widespread consumption, we will undoubtedly see many more futuristic fashionistas in the years to come. Plus, the increased demand for textiles and fabrics that provide comfort with enhanced functionality and improved appearance will increasingly drive the demand for more nanotechnology in this sector. Get ready for it ladies!