New technology that harnesses electronic signals in a smart fabric could lead to advanced hazardous-material gear that protects against toxic chemicals, according to research from Dartmouth College. The SOFT (Self-Organized Framework on Textiles) devices have the potential for use in sensing applications ranging from real-time gas detection in wearable systems, to electronically accessible adsorbent layers in protective equipment like gas masks.
“By adding this fabric to a protective suit, sensors can alert the user if a chemical is penetrating the hazardous-material gear,” said Katherine Mirica, an assistant professor of chemistry at Dartmouth College. “This is not just passive protection, the textile can actively alarm a user if there is a tear or defect in the fabric, or if functional performance is diminished in any other way. Metal-organic frameworks are the future of designer materials, just like plastics were in the post-WWII era. By integrating the MOFs (metal-organic frameworks) into our SOFT devices, we dramatically enhance the performance of smart fabrics that are essential to safety and security.”
In a process that Mirica describes as “similar to a building framework assembling itself,” cotton and polyester textiles coated with conductive crystals at the fiber-level are created by direct self-assembly of molecules with organic molecular struts connected by metallic linkers from solution.
Wearable electronics are thought to have great potential in areas including homeland security, communication and healthcare. Soldiers, emergency personnel, factory workers and others that risk exposure to toxic chemicals could benefit from the new smart fabrics. The materials could also help medical patients that require monitoring of specific airborne chemicals that come from the environment or even from their own bodies. The fabrics are also stable in heat, have good shelf-lives and retain a full-range of utility under humid conditions. Soldiers, emergency personnel, factory workers and others that risk exposure to toxic chemicals could benefit from the new smart fabrics.