Can you imagine being able to control the temperature of your clothing, to either heat you up or cool you down? Sounds a bit like science fiction, I know, but it is an idea that could in fact become a reality, thanks to researchers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI).
When Science Is Inspired By Nature
Researchers at UCI were inspired by nature when they came up with a material that could make temperature-regulating clothing a possibility. They developed a squid-inspired material that allows the wearer to control the temperature of their clothing. The material is also capable of being stretched and returned to its original state quite a few times without any detrimental wear and tear.
Lightweight and cheap to manufacture, Melvin Colorado Escobar, a PhD student on the research team said; “The inspiration for this study stemmed from our team’s fascination with cephalopods and their amazing camouflage abilities.” He continued; “Squid, in particular, have skin that contains cells – called chromatophores – which change their size and colour rapidly. We realized that we could apply a similar principle in the infrared, instead, to control the reflectance and transmittance of heat.”
Made from copper nanostructured film embedded in a polymer (styrene-ethylene-butylene-styrene block copolymer) matrix the material has the same ability as a high-tech space blanket. “This technology can be adjusted such that you maintain a comfortable temperature. When it is cold, it acts as a space blanket, reflecting all of your heat to yourself to keep you warm. When the environment is warmer, it can be stretched, changing its properties and releasing your heat to keep you cooler,” revealed Escobar.
The team first tested the material on a guarded hot plate that simulates human skin, before testing on a real arm. What they found out was that when they stretched the material, heat was released and the skin cooled. They are working towards the wearer being able to adjust how stretched it is, via an app, and control the amount of heat being trapped or released.
Besides being a useful innovation in the sports industry, they have partnered up with athletic apparel company Under Armour, Alon Gorodetsky, professor and research lead, believes that the material can also be used in office spaces. He explained in a press release: “The temperature at which people are comfortable in an office is slightly different for everyone. Where one person might be fine at 21 degrees, the person at the next desk over might prefer 23 degrees. Our invention could lead to clothing that adjusts to suit the comfort of each person indoors. This could result in potential savings of 30 to 40 per cent on heating and air conditioning energy use.”
Not the first to use nature as inspiration, biotechnology company Bolt Threads came up with Microsilk™ which was inspired by spiders, the UCI researchers hope that their squid-inspired invention can stem to clinical warming devices, tents, wearables and activewear. They even foresee, with a few modifications, the material being used by astronauts to help them remain warm in space.