To help protect soldiers in the future, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and other institutions, are developing a new type of uniform made with a nanotube-based fabric that repels chemical and biological agents.
The fabric will be able to automatically switch from a highly breathable state to a protective one in response to environmental threats, like a smart ‘second skin.’ It has membranes with pores made of a few-nanometer-wide, vertically-aligned carbon nanotubes modified with a functional surface layer. In response to the presence of a chemical warfare agent, the fabric would close the pore entrance or shed the contaminated surface layer.
The membranes will block biological agents such as bacteria and viruses, and researchers plan to modify their surface with chemical threat responsive functional groups to block chemical agents such as mustard gas and nerve gas. They also plan to develop a “shedding” response so the fabric exfoliates upon recation with a chemical agent, so it can block sulfur mustard (blister agent), GD and VX nerve agents, toxins, and biological spores such as anthrax. It is estimated that these new uniforms could be deployed in the field in less than ten years.