Unique “Second Skin” Developed for First Responders

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The safety of soldiers and first responders’ personnel vis a vis chemical and biological threats relies on protective equipment. However, there are many challenges, mainly the fact that the same materials (adsorbents or barrier layers) that provide protection in current garments also detrimentally inhibit breathability.

A multi-institutional team of researchers led by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) scientist Francesco Fornasiero has developed a smart, breathable fabric designed to protect the wearer against biological and chemical warfare agents. 

Material of this type could be used in clinical and medical settings as well. The work represents the successful completion of Phase I of the project, which is funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency through the Dynamic Multifunctional Materials for a Second Skin “D[MS]2” program.

“We demonstrated a smart material that is both breathable and protective by successfully combining two key elements: a base membrane layer comprising trillions of aligned carbon nanotube pores and a threat-responsive polymer layer grafted onto the membrane surface,” Fornasiero said.

These carbon nanotubes (graphitic cylinders with diameters more than 5,000 times smaller than a human hair) could easily transport water molecules through their interiors while also blocking all biological threats, which cannot fit through the tiny pores. This key finding was previously published in Advanced Materials.

According to phys.org, the team has shown that the moisture vapor transport rate through carbon nanotubes increases with decreasing tube diameter. 

The work was recently published online in Advanced Functional Materials.