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Dr. Jaime Grunlan, holder of the Leland T. Jordan ’29 Chair in the J. Mike Walker ’66 Department of Mechanical Engineering, is researching applications of water-based nanocoatings to military clothing to add protective properties against fire, ultraviolet light and chemical substances.

Military clothing is commonly made from cotton, wool and synthetic blends, but these fabrics often alter when protective properties are added. “When cotton is given flame-resistance, for example, the fiber itself is modified, and the cotton could stiffen,” Grunlan explained. “Changing the material’s structure removes its valuable intrinsic properties.

The water-based nanocoating is unseen to the human eye, nontoxic and environmentally friendly.

To combat this, Grunlan developed a water-based, nontoxic solution that can add properties without changing the inherent fiber structure. Clothing is dipped into a curated solution with a positive charge, extracted and then placed into a solution with a negative charge. The attraction of the opposing charges bonds the chemicals, creating a microscopic nanocoating that adheres to the clothing’s surface in an imperceptible layer. The solution’s water-based composition allows the textile to remain conformal and is also environmentally friendly.

Using this technique, Grunlan is creating materials that are flame retardant and protect against ultraviolet light. He is also studying nanocoatings that cause a material to change colors when exposed to a hazardous substance, which could prove valuable in chemical warfare.

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