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Torn Clothes No More? Self-Healing Fabric May Be The Future Of Clothing

14 August 2016, 10:00 pm EDT By Alyssa Navarro Tech Times
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Scientists from Pennsylvania State University have developed a revolutionary new coating technology that may help parents mend torn clothes and protect farmers against chemical exposure. The technology allows the self-healing of fabric.  ( Demirel Lab | Penn State University )

Imagine never needing to pull the sewing needle to fix your torn clothes ever again.

Scientists from Pennsylvania State University claim to have developed an ingenious self-healing fabric that may someday become the future of protective clothing.

To make this self-healing material a reality, researchers apply a surprisingly simple process: dipping torn clothes in certain special liquids. The special coating technology may potentially revolutionize the clothing industry.

Self-Healing Material

Penn State Professor Melik C. Demirel says fashion designers often use natural fibers made of silk or wool to create clothes, but these materials are expensive and not self-mending.

This led scientists to develop their own coating technology, which still makes use of conventional textiles.

Here's how it works: the material or clothing item is dipped in a sequence of liquids to produce layers of new material, forming a polyelectrolyte layer-by-layer coating.

The coating can be created from a yeast and bacteria mixture and is made up of negatively and positively charged polymers similar to the ones found in nail proteins and human hair as well as proteins in squid teeth rings.

Although Penn State scientists dipped the entire clothing material into the special liquid, it can also be spot applied.

You can search for a tear in your clothes, dribble a few drops of the liquid over it, add warm water and hold the material for a moment. After a while, the torn spot should begin to heal itself.

During the layering, enzymes can become incorporated into the coating. Demirel and his colleagues currently use urease, which is an enzyme that breaks urea into carbon dioxide (CO2) and ammonia.

However, in commercial use, the coating could be adjusted with enzymes that match the targeted chemical or material. Demirel says that for enzymes with chemical or biological effects, scientists can use a condensed enzyme with self-healing properties that degrade the toxin before it reaches the skin.

Benefits Of Self-Healing Clothes

The skin can absorb many toxic substances. For instance, farmers are often exposed to organophosphates or herbicides, which can be absorbed through the skin and are potentially fatal. These substances have also been used as nerve agents.

This, however, can be prevented with a self-healing garment. Researchers say a clothing item with a self-healing material that contains organophosphate hydrolase, which breaks down the toxic enzyme, could limit exposure to the harmful substance.

Furthermore, the squid ring teeth polymer can heal itself in the presence of water, so laundering the items would repair defects in the coating, making them reusable.

Demirel says the process may also increase the longevity of clothes because the coatings can blend in the clothing enough not to be noticed in daily wear.

"Even thin, they increase the overall strength of the material," says Demirel.

For manufacturing sites with toxic environments where the use of chemicals is necessary, protective clothing enhanced with the proper enzyme combination could help avoid exposure to accidental chemical releases.

These coatings could also be used in medical meshes, which could help minimize infections and speed up recovery, researchers said.

Watch the video below.

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