A team at Stanford led by Yi Cui has published developments using a nanomaterial to create cloth that could be used for garments that keep people cool in hot weather.
The material is nanoporous polyethylene, or nanoPE, and the important feature is that the pores let IR (heat) out, but block visible light. With additional engineering, the material also wicks away moisture. These, then are the properties you want in warm weather garments, to keep you cool with no energy expended.
One neat thing about this is how they are thinking about the problem, working to find and tune materials to solve familiar, human scale problems. As researcher Shanhui Fan comments, “this research opens up new avenues of inquiry to cool or heat things, passively, without the use of outside energy, by tuning materials to dissipate or trap infrared radiation.” This was not a “discovery” or the result of a random search. This was deliberate engineering.
Of course, this is far from a done deal. Aside from questions of manufacturing, colors and so on, there is the matter of, well, touch. As the video suggests, this material looks (and, I bet feels) like “plastic”. Not a popular feeling for clothing, especially for body hugging gear. (In this case, the material really needs to be worn against the skin – other clothing would defeat the cooling.) So, it will be necessary to make it nice.
So there is a ways to go, yet. But it this shows what may be possible, as we get serious about manipulating and optimizing matter at the molecular level.
Very nice work.
- Po-Chun Hsu, Alex Y. Song, Peter B. Catrysse, Chong Liu, Yucan Peng, Jin Xie, Shanhui Fan, and Yi Cui, Radiative human body cooling by nanoporous polyethylene textile. Science, 353 (6303):1019, 2016. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/353/6303/1019.abstract