MaterialDistrict

Clothing that detects dangerous chemicals and pollutants

It’s not always possible to detect if you’re exposed to harmful particles or radiation until it’s too late. In order to warn you in advance, various institutions developed shirts and fabric that detect or even protect against air and water pollution, carbon monoxide, radiation and nerve gas.

Nerve gas
A team of researchers at the City College of New York, led by chemical engineer Teresa Bandosz, developed smart textiles that are able to detect as well as neutralise nerve gas. The fabric consists of cotton, modified with oxidised graphitic carbon nitride.

The smart fabric changes colour gradually when it detects nerve gas, simultaneously neutralising it.

Air pollution, carbon monoxide and radiation
Company Aerochromics developed a line of reactive clothing that transforms its pattern when increased levels of harmful particles in the air are detected.

With the air quality round the globe quickly deteriorating, it’s important to monitor urban spaces to make sure they are safe to live in. About 30 per cent of the world population breathes unsafe air, with an Air Quality Index (AQI) of 60 or higher.

The cotton shirts by Aerochromics are designed to reveal their pattern more if the air quality decreases. The patterns start becoming visible with an AQI of 60 and gradually increases until 160 AQI. When the shirt comes into contact with particle pollution, the two small sensors in the shirt trip and alert a micro-controller embedded in the shirt collar. Each dot is connected to a circular heat pad, activated by the controller, and covered in thermo-chromic dye that changes colour when it comes into contact with heat.

In addition to the pollution shirt, Aerochromics also has a shirt that warns for carbon monoxide, which can build up without anyone noticing. The carbon monoxide is oxidised by chemical salts when it touches the shirt, turning the pattern black. The pattern turns back to normal when the metal salts come into contact with oxygen.

The last shirt, which will be available soon, reacts to radioactivity. It’s dyed with a non-toxic dye that changes colour depending on the exposure to gamma or electron beam radiation.

If you just like the patterns, Aerochromics also sells non-reactive shirts.

Water pollution
The company THEUNSEEN, which developed various colour-changing products, including hair dye, collaborated with clothing company The Lost Explorer to develop a T-shirt that reacts to water pollution.

The companies borrowed from an ancient pH indication potion extracted from red cabbage. PH is an innate property of water, which defines the limits within which life can or can’t thrive.

The dyed T-shirt starts out purple, to indicate neutral water. When it comes into contact with non-neutral water, the pH level of that water is revealed through the colour of the garment, varying from green, when it’s alkaline, to red, indicating acidic water. Through this, the wearer can see how polluted the water is.

The dye is simple to make yourself. Below, Lauren Bowker, founder of THEUNSEEN and modern alchemist, explains how to do it.

 

Els Zijlstra

Photos: The Unseen Explorer (via Daze) / Aerochromics

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