Ward Off Smog, Pollution With Nanotech Outfit

Airborne nasties, be warned: You can look but you can't touch. Featured at the Cornell Design League fashion show on April 21, the two-toned gold dress and metallic denim jacket pictured above are coated with nanoparticles that prevent colds and protect the wearer from noxious gases. These duds don't come cheap, however. Expect to shell around $10,000 for one square yard of nano-treated cotton.

Designer student Olivia Ong collaborated with fiber science assistant professor Juan Hinestroza and his postdoctoral researcher Hong Dong to create these high-tech garments. The fabrics were created by dipping them in solutions containing electrostatically charged nanoparticles synthesized in Hinestroza's lab. No dyes were necessary—the colors are the result of reflected particles, which also form a protective shield around the cotton fibers. "It's something really moving toward the future, and really advanced," said Ong in a press release. "I thought this could potentially be what fashion is moving toward."The upper portion of the dress was made from cotton coated with silver nanoparticles approximately 10 to 20 nanometers across. (A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter.) Because silver is imbued with natural antibacterial qualities amplified at the nanoscale, Ong's dress is capable of deactivating harmful bacteria and viruses. Another plus: The microscopic size of the particles prevents soiling and stains, which means the garment will rarely need washing.

Need some extra outdoor protection? The metallic denim jacket's hood, sleeves, and pockets were sewn from a soft, gray tweed embedded with palladium nanoparticles, about 5 to 10 nanometers in length, that have the ability to oxidize smog. "I thought it would be cool if [wearers] could wipe their hands on their sleeves or pockets," Ong said.

Gaps in our knowledge of nanotech safety could prove tricky to navigate, however, especially in light of evidence that engineered nanoparticles can have adverse effects on the health of lab animals. Call us squeamish but we're sticking to off-the-rack for now. Future schmuture. :: Cornell University

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