by Carida Diaz
Growing up, I always had a fascination with those t-shirts and scrunchies (and countless other random summer accessories) that changed color in the sun or when you touched them. This magical material was always so mysterious and intriguing to me, but I never really knew what it was called or how it worked. Fast-forward a decade later, and I’m researching “thermochromic fabric” (fabric that chances color according to temperature)for my Textiles Science class.
When thermochromic reactions are found in fabrics, a unique type of dye acts as the thermochromic agent. This agent is typically composed of one of two main elements. When thermochromic dyes are made up of liquid crystals, the crystal molecules re-orient their helices according to their temperature causing our eyes to register a change in color. When the dye is made up of a micro-encapsulate thermochromatic system, it contains countless microscopic capsules that contain a hydrophobic solvent that contain a dye precursor and a color developer. When the temperature rises, the chemical reaction between the two causes the fabric to change color.
Thermochromic fabric has been used for a few things, most of them purely trendy- like the Hypercolor brand shirts that were popular in the 90’s and recently made a comeback at your friendly neighborhood American Apparel. However, I recently stumbled upon a function for this particular substance that could potentially save lives.
Two students pursuing their Master’s NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts , Sue Ngo and Nien Lam, recently developed a prototype for a type of garment they have entitled “Warning Signs”. Warning Signs combine carbon monoxide sensors with thermochromic fabric in order to create a graphic appliqué that changes color when it detects a spike in the level of air pollution. Ngo and Lam have designed these appliqués in lung and heart shapes that respond to this pollution chase with the appearance of a smattering of blue veins.
Though still a prototype, the Warning Signs opens up a whole new realm in which the nature of thermochromic fabric can be utilized. It addresses a serious issue and provides a creative and novel solution. While its a little disheartening to imagine a world in which all clothing was required to incorporate this technology, it is also quite groundbreaking. Imagine if car seats changed color when they detected a carbon monoxide leak in your garage, or your jacket developed a pattern when the air around you was no longer safe to breathe. These airborne toxins are usually invisible to the human eye, but with this type of technology we would all be more immediately able to respond in what could potentially be a life-or-death situation. This type of application is full of possibilities, and it will be interesting to see how well it catches on.
Popova, Maria. “Warning Signs: Clothing That Detects Carbon Monoxide | Design for Good | Big Think.” Big Think | Blogs, Articles and Videos from the World’s Top Thinkers and Leaders. 24 Jan. 2011. Web. 10 Dec. 2011. <http://bigthink.com/ideas/26616>.
Gaimster, Julia. “Textiles and Trimmings.” Visual Research Methods in Fashion. [S.l.]: Berg, 2011. Print.