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High-tech Fibers

What do Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga have in common with engineering? All belt out chart-topping singles in a costume tailor-made for a techno beat and larger-than-life image: an LED dress.

Such electrifying fashion is just the latest in an unbroken thread of textile innovations since the industrial revolution. This glowing number from CuteCircuit turns the wearer into moving art, aglow with Swarovski crystals and 1,500 hand-sewn, wirelessly controlled LED lights powered by rechargeable LiPo batteries.

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Wearable technology reaches beyond fashion to lightweight military armor and applications in sports, cybersecurity, and medicine. Sensor-studded e-textiles pioneered by chemical engineer Danilo De Rossi of Italy’s University of Pisa, for instance, can help recovering stroke patients.

Whether you’re an athlete straining for victory or a rocker plugging in for the Grammys, high-tech fibers show that function can also be fashionable. Check out these innovative examples from ASEE’s Prism magazine:

High-performance garb is de rigeur for athletes. Now, it’s racehorses’ turn. This colorful suit, designed by Matthew Spice of Sydney, Australia, harnesses durable, warp-knit wicking sportswear fabric and a “graduated compression technology” to enhance circulation and help horses rebound from exertion. Spice’s biggest challenge? Maintaining consistent compression around the top of the legs and through the chest. Also, he notes, “horses are difficult to clothe as you can’t bend their legs and step them into a garment like this.” Solution: Five YKK high-performance sports zippers. Watch Australia’s equine Olympians turn heads in London.

Matt Spice zips a horse into the compression suit he designed:

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Flashy fabric is hot. But dyeing textiles consumes an average of 20 gallons of water per pound of material. A spinoff of the Netherlands’ FeyeCon Group, which began as a Delft University of Technology startup, has developed a completely water-free process that uses carbon dioxide to dye polyester, lowering operational costs and waste. Seeing the technology’s “potential to revolutionize textile manufacturing,” Nike’s Sustainable Business and Innovation Lab recently partnered with the spinoff, DyeCoo Textile Systems, to manufacture footwear and research ways to apply the process to other natural and synthetic fibers.

Photo courtesy of Nike

Brazilian designer Pedro Nakazato Andrade tries to incorporate a “deep understanding of people” into products and services. Applying social media, he believes, can speed the mending of fractures. Bones, a concept cast that he developed at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design, has embedded electromyographic sensors that capture muscle activity around a break and report the data to a website, where patients can track their recovery, view others’ progress, and find appropriate exercises. As Andrade told Fast Company last summer: “Sharing this information is a way to encourage new users to engage with their recovery process from the beginning of their treatment.”

Photo courtesy of Pedro Nakazato Andrade

Is your cellphone spilling secrets? Even switched off, most mobile devices emit data, beaming their location to service providers. MIAmobi’s “SilentPocket” cases have a nanosilver lining that blocks all incoming and outbound electromagnetic transmissions, including RFID signals used by hackers and identity thieves to steal information. Research at the nexus of textiles and nanotechnology is yielding a host of new materials, like self-decontaminating fabric, with commercial, environmental, and defense potential. Cornell’s Juan Hinestroza, for instance, is finding new methods of applying nanoscale metal particles to fabrics through electrostatic assembly.

Photo courtesy of MIAmobi

One Response to “High-tech Fibers”

  1. This is SO FASCINATING, both for me and for my students!!! What a wonderful merge between the imagination (“wouldn’t it be great if . . .”} and the application of science and math in these products! Love it!

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