Future military uniforms could automatically transform into hazmat suits


December 5, 2012

Scientists are developing breathable military uniforms that can also repel toxic substances, when needed (Photo: Shutterstock)

Scientists are developing breathable military uniforms that can also repel toxic substances, when needed (Photo: Shutterstock)

While there are already protective cover-all suits that offer protection against chemical and biological agents, it’s unrealistic to suggest that soldiers should carry such suits with them at all times, and hurriedly pull them on in the event of an attack. Instead, research teams from several institutions are developing something a little more practical – uniform fabric that automatically becomes impermeable to toxic substances, when it detects them in the area.

Under normal conditions, the material would be very breathable, allowing its wearer to stay cool. If something like poisonous gas were present, however, the pores of the fabric would respond by closing up – some degree of breathability would be maintained, although the pores would now be too small to allow the toxic molecules to pass through. Presumably, the uniforms would include some sort of hood/mask.

To make this possible, the teams are developing highly-breathable membranes, with pores composed of vertically-aligned carbon nanotubes. Those nanotube pores will allow for optimal gas exchange back and forth through the fabric, as long as no threat is present. The pores will also have a surface layer, however, that causes them to contract when exposed to chemical or biological agents.

Another option, which the researchers are also looking into, involves the fabric first trapping toxic molecules in its outer layer, and then shedding that layer like exfoliated skin.

The collaborative Dynamic Multifunctional Material for a Second Skin Program includes scientists from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center, MIT, Rutgers University, and Chasm Technologies, Inc.

They hope to have uniforms made from the material deployed in the field in less than ten years.

Source: University of Massachusetts Amherst via PopSci

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth
1 Comment

As someone who has worn a uniform in a deployed location. Hopefully the designers take into account long shelf life, easy wash and wear, and the varied environments in which these uniforms will encounter.

It would really suck to get issued a uniform that had been sitting on a shelf for 5 years in a non climate controlled warehouse and after getting attacked by a Chemical Biological or Nuclear weapon find out the hard way that my uniform failed me.

Also cost should be kept in mind, $0.02 can make a huge difference in what uniforms our troops get. Just look at the USAF for proof.

Daniel Trimble
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