A smart shape-shifting fabric was invented at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. As reported by Carlos Valdez, a chemist at the lab, this smart fabric was made to be used in the first responder’s PPE.
Apparently, this advanced protective clothing is being developed for those who are working in warzones poisoned with Sarin gas. It is an organophosphorus chemical weapon that is odorless as well as pretty lethal.
As traditional PPEs are heavy and non-breathable, it is very uncomfortable and also dangerous for the wearers responding to chemical weapons and chaotic situations.
“If you are wearing protective suits, you typically have to limit usage to an hour or so before your body temperature spikes to a dangerous level,” says Francesco Fornasiero, a staff scientist in chemical engineering at Lawrence Livermore. “In a worst-case scenario, you could get a heat stroke.”
Given how lethal sarin gas is, due to its chemical structure and ability to permeate through the skin, smart materials are required to sense such nerve gases and automatically block them out.
Sarin gas has molecules that are minute and agile, so much so that, its atoms are a hundred times smaller than the pores on an N95 mask. Making a protective gear that can barricade such nanoscopic particles would mean severely restricting a material’s breathability.
The answer to this was found in a breathable membrane fabric made of carbon nanotubes. The highlight of this light and durable material is that, its shape shifts in a way that the pores automatically closes as soon as it detects a chemical weapon like sarin.
Under normal conditions, air and water vapor can travel freely through this material, however, its membrane closes almost instantaneously when it detects sarin. As an added bonus, this material can also change colors when it comes in contact with sarin, making it even more useful while dealing with colorless and odorless gases.
That being said, this material is currently sensitive to sarin but is not so much to another chemical weapon called soman. The team at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is currently working on developing this fabric to make it flexible enough to block multiple nerve agents while being comfortable and flexible.