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Beat the Heat! Scientists Create New Plastic Fabric to Keep You Cool All Day

Sep 03, 2016 04:00 AM EDT
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There are days so scorchingly hot that it seems like a good idea to wrap one’s self in ice. Well, scientists have made the next best thing: plastic clothing to keep you cool and ward off the sweaty armpits for the entire day. A team of researchers from Stanford University found that polyethylene -- known to be the most common plastic in the planet -- is an effective textile material in beating the heat.
(Photo : Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

There are days so scorchingly hot that it seems like a good idea to wrap one's self in ice. Well, scientists have made the next best thing: plastic clothing to keep you cool and ward off the sweaty armpits for the entire day.

Stanford Takes on the Challenge

According to a report from the Smithsonian Magazine, a team of researchers from Stanford University found that polyethylene - known to be the most common plastic in the planet - is an effective textile material in beating the heat.

In their study published on Science Mag, it was revealed that the reason for this impressive property of polyethylene is because it allows infrared radiation to pass through it easily. The body produces this radiation when they produce heat, but all clothing keeps it trapped close to the body. In contrast, material created from polyethylene would allow it to escape freely.

The researchers decided to use a specific type of polyethylene that's used in batteries, which is opaque instead of transparent. They also experimented the best way to combat plastic's resistance to moisture so sweating isn't a problem, mixing chemicals to modify the material as well as inserting a cotton mesh between two layers of polyethylene for more strength.

MIT Offers a Different Approach 

Meanwhile, the Massachusettes Institute of Technology (MIT) is taking a crack at the subject from another perspective.

"We're working from the bottom up," researcher Svetlana Boriskina said. She added that they are working on finding a way to make a fabric transparent to infrared radiation. This method is approached from the microscopic level.

Boriskina is optimistic about developing heat-friendly clothing whether its Stanford's way or theirs.

"In the short term, the biggest challenge is to make this clothing comfortable," she explained. "But in the long term, for real energy savings to occur, you would need to have a lot of people wearing this type of clothing. If too many people are still wearing conventional clothes, they may not want to turn down the air conditioner."

It's the Best Time for This Technology

There's no better time to develop such clothing as the world is currently breaking heat records left and right, according to a report from NASA. Each of the first six months of the year was the hottest of each respective month on record, and this half-year period is the hottest six-month period ever recorded.

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