Federal Researchers Create ‘Second Skin’ to Shield Against Biological Threats

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A Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory-led team of scientists has developed a breathable, protective smart fabric—deemed a “second skin”—that’s designed to shield wearers by responding, itself, to chemical and biological agents.

Researchers from the California-based lab, together with collaborators from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command recently completed the first phase of a project to create the cutting-edge material, which can autonomously react to microscopic dangers in its environment and might offer a glimpse into the future of smart uniforms worn by the military, first responders and more.

“Combining breathability and protection in the same garment is very challenging, but key for their safe, extended use,” Francesco Fornasiero, the LLNL scientist leading the team told Nextgov Friday, detailing the inspiration behind the effort.

As the novel coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated and amplified, military and other federal officials at times must expose themselves to toxic or contaminated environments and confront biological threats like viruses and bacteria or even smaller, chemical agents like sarin gas, firsthand. In those efforts, officials depend on the proper protective equipment to ensure their safety, however as Fornasiero indicated, standard protective fabrics’ makeup and absorbent layers inhibit breathability, or “the transfer of water vapor from the wearer’s body to the outside world.”

The lab’s effort is funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Dynamic Multifunctional Materials for a Second Skin—or D2—program, which seeks to promote the technological development of next-generation clothing that provides military officials with robust protection from chemical and biological threats, while also offering wearers a level of comfort akin to being in their own skin. Over the last six or so years, Fornasiero and the team worked to create and refine their multifunctional material through the first phase of the program, which they recently completed and subsequently published details about in the scientific journal Advanced Functional Materials. – READ MORE

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