Nano Design Meets Fashion: How Our Clothes Can Embrace the Future through Materials Science

Nano design can transform our clothes into technological marvels.
By combining fashion and nano design, we can create clothing with many practical and useful applications.
Image source: Flickr CC user allispossible.org.uk

Imagine clothes that never get wet. Or perhaps a suit that can keep you cool in burning hot temperatures. I bet the latter sounds great right now, in the middle of this scorching summer!

No, these aren’t fashion ideas lifted from the latest futuristic blockbuster hitting movie theaters. Materials scientists are melding nano design and fashion, pushing the boundaries of what our clothing can withstand and do.

Altering Textile Properties through Nano Design

Let’s consider my first example of clothes that never get wet. You may be thinking to yourself, “That’s just a raincoat.” But even raincoats can soak through if you leave them in water long enough.

Swiss scientists, however, have developed a polyester fabric that can stay dry under the wettest conditions. Their research involved creating silicone filaments with an extremely hydrophobic nanostructure. When used to coat polyester, the nanofilaments also form a pocket of air between it and the fabric. So not only does the silicone layer repel water, it has a secondary barrier that helps to keep the polyester dry.1

This liquid-repelling quality has uses beyond keeping dry, too. It can also be used to prevent stains. I’m sure most of us have experienced the mishap of spilling marinara sauce or red wine on a bright white shirt.

Now imagine what other useful properties nanofilaments can bestow on fabric. What about fabrics that can prevent sunburn? I know many redheads who would be thrilled by this. Or perhaps antistatic clothing? No more awkward clings or flyaway hair during the winter.2

Using Nano Design to Transform Clothing into Technological Marvels

In addition to lessening the environmental impact of the clothing industry, science can be used to innovate what fabrics are capable of. Thanks to materials science, we can make clothes that can kill bacteria, helping prevent the spread of disease. What about clothes that can conduct electricity? It might sound impossible, but it’s more likely than you think. Students at Cornell University developed garments that could charge handheld devices by using solar panel trim and embedding a USB charger in the waist.3 Pretty clever, isn’t it?

What’s even more exciting is the use of metal-organic frameworks in some of this research. Thanks to their hollow structures, which are capable of holding gas, their application in clothing design can yield useful products. For example, they can hold insecticides—great for warding off mosquitoes when camping in the woods or even better, preventing the spread of malaria.

Encouraging Nano Design Innovation through Materials Science

When it comes to melding nano design and fashion, there are a few things materials scientists need to take into consideration.

  • Cost Reduction: Developing new materials via traditional methods is often one of trial and error. More likely than not, potential candidates will fail. As a result, the developmental cycle can cost both time and money.
  • Streamlining Efficiency: Designing and discovering promising nanostructures can be tedious and repetitive. The manpower devoted to these types of tasks could be better put to use elsewhere.
  • Boosting Collaboration: In the case of creating nanotech-improved clothing, it’s unlikely that the same people developing the potential nanoparticles and coatings are the same ones designing clothes. In an ideal world, colleagues would be able to share information with each other despite location and time zone.

Modeling software can address all of these nano design concerns. Within the simulation environment, scientists can predict behavior and properties based on chemical structure. If, for example, they’re aiming to develop clothing that doesn’t get wet, they can select for hydrophilic nanostructures and determine which ones have the most potential. This will decrease the number of experiments required during the research and development process. The software can also automate tedious tasks, freeing up researchers’ time for other things.

Whether it’s for textiles or something else, is your firm interested in boosting innovation and efficiency in your materials science laboratory? Please contact us today to learn more about the benefits of BIOVIA Materials Studio.

  1. “Nanotech clothing fabric ‘never gets wet’,” November 24, 2008, https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16126-nanotech-clothing-fabric-never-gets-wet/
  2. “The nanotechnology in your clothes,” February 14, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/science/small-world/2014/feb/14/nanotechnology-clothes-nanoparticles
  3. “Nanotech transforms cotton fibers into modern marvel,” July 7, 2015, http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2015/07/nanotech-transforms-cotton-fibers-modern-marvel

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