By  on August 3, 2011

NEW YORK — Like many scientists, Juan Hinestroza is aself-professed fashion neophyte, more concerned with what’s happening inthe Petrie dish than what’s coming down the runway. His latestresearch, however, has awakened in him a growing awareness andappreciation of sartorial splendor.

Lately, Hinestroza has beenwondering whether nanotechnology might be fashionable. It’s a questionhe asks his students at Cornell University’s department of fiber scienceand apparel design. The professor’s answer — “yes” — is backed up byimages of futuristic fabrics on display at Cornell’s fashion collectivespring show. “The combination of science and design has so manywonderful applications,” Hinestroza said Tuesday during a media luncheonat Cornell’s conference center here. “At Cornell University, we havedesigners and scientists working together.”

At his lab inIthaca, N.Y., Hinestroza’s nanoscale science technology is being appliedto textile science with some revolutionary results. Electrostaticself-assembly and atomic layer deposition techniques are being used tocreate multifunctional and customizable surfaces on conventionaltextiles. Silver or gold-coated nanoparticles deposited on cottoncreates fabric that can block the sun’s harmful UV rays, render toxinsharmless or provide improved thermal insulation. “You could go outsidein extreme temperatures with a single layer cotton shirt,” Hinestrozasaid. “Other fabrics expel water.”

Fabrics with embeddednanoparticles can detect counterfeiting devices because particles have“very unique signatures,” Hinestroza said. “[Gold]-coated cotton fabricshave antibacterial properties and textiles coated with noble metal candetect explosives and drugs.”

The technology could cause arevolution in several industries, from apparel manufacturing todry-cleaning. “[The fabric] makes people feel fresh,” Hinestroza said,adding that “the Army could use underwear that can stand 30 days withouta washing.”

Colors can be attained by controlling the size andspacing of gold nanoparticles deposited onto cotton. A benefit is thatunlike dyes, physical color doesn’t fade when exposed to sunlight. AndHinestroza said consumers can say goodbye to the common problem oftrying to match two black garments from different brands or even thesame collection. “This problem exists because the colors are chemical,”he said. “If you use a physical color there’s no problem. This could bevery important to the tuxedo industry.”

Asked when thetechnology will be widely used by the apparel industry, Hinestroza said“We have some patents and people are licensing the patents.”

Manufacturerscould potentially charge more for garments made from the new textiles.“Clothing will have aesthetic value and will also be functional,”Hinestroza said. “It will raise the value of crops. How much would youpay for clothing that could protect you from bacteria?”

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