Free Press Journal

‘Second skin’ uniforms to protect soldiers from biological threats



New York: With an aim to protect soldiers from biological and chemical threats, researchers have created a material that is highly breathable and yet protective from biological agents, says IANS. High breathability is a critical requirement for protective clothing to prevent heat-stress and exhaustion when military personnel are engaged in missions in contaminated environments. This material could lead to the development of futuristic smart uniforms that could respond to and protect soldiers from environmental chemical hazards in the field.

Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in the US fabricated flexible polymeric membranes with aligned carbon nanotube (CNT) channels as moisture conductive pores. The size of these pores (less than five nanometers, nm) is 5,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

“We demonstrated that these membranes provide rates of water vapour transport that surpass those of commercial breathable fabrics like GoreTex, even though the CNT pores are only a few nanometers wide,” said lead author of the study Ngoc Bui.

These membranes also provided protection from biological threats like bacteria or viruse due to their very small pore size, which are less than five nanometres (nm) wide, said the study published in the journal Advanced Materials.

Biological threats like bacteria or viruses are much larger and typically more than 10-nm in size. Performed tests demonstrated that the CNT membranes repelled dngue virus from aqueous solutions during filtration tests.

This confirms that LLNL-developed CNT membranes provide effective protection from biological threats by size exclusion rather than by merely preventing wetting. Furthermore, the results showed that CNT pores combine high breathability and bio-protection in a single functional material.

Researchers are also trying to make the material react in a way similar to how a living skin peels off when challenged with dangerous external factors. So the fabric will exfoliate upon reaction with the chemical agent.

“The material will be like a smart second skin that responds to the environment,” Kuang Jen Wu from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory said. The scientists believe that the new uniforms could be deployed in the field in less than 10 years.