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Nanotechnology’s role in protective products

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Kay Obendorf, professor of fiber science and apparel design at Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology, believes in the power of nanotechnology to aid in the development of personal protective products.

“The area of healthcare is open to much development of nanotechnology-driven products,” she says. “There are fibers in products used in the human body for repair and drug delivery and out of the body to provide sanitation and adsorption. Antimicrobial [properties] and air filtration are important.

“Enhanced human performance could be in the workplace as well as in sports,” Obendorf adds, suggesting nanotechnology-based fabrics could provide greater dexterity, enhanced thermal regulation, self-decontaminating properties and superior adsorbancy, providing more protection from industrial hazards.

“Another area is to use textiles or other new materials to enhance the quality of the built environment,” she says. “This could be in better filtration or in use of self-decontamination fibers that degrade volatile organics to be less harmful to human health.”

Obendorf acknowledges that new materials often appear in military and medical products before moving into industrial and consumer textiles, and thinks nanotechnology-based fabrics will follow the same path. “I think that innovation and creativity are the basis for new product development and expanded markets,” she says. “A sound business plan and knowledge of the competitive market—combined with good marketing—are required for success.”

In another aspect of protection, nanoparticles or nanofibers can be used to provide a security “fingerprint” to guard against forgery. Obendorf even foresees self-healing properties being applied to protect paper archival materials from microorganisms and decay.

Janice Kleinschmidt is a freelance writer based in Palm Springs, Calif.

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