Polar bear fur-inspired sweater is thinner than a down jacket — and just as warm

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A polar bear appears to wave as it sits upright on a snowy landscape in Russia.

Chinese researchers have actually developed a sweatshirt as snuggly as this bear, utilizing artificial fibers. Credit: Belfalah Soufian/500px by means of Getty

A sweatshirt knitted from a fiber that simulates polar bear fur uses as much heat as a down coat, regardless of being one-fifth as thick, according to a research study released today in Science1 The fiber– made from a light, artificial product called an aerogel– preserves its heat-trapping residential or commercial properties even after being extended, cleaned and colored.

The proof-of-concept fiber may one day be utilized for clothes that require to be resilient and light-weight– such as sportswear, military uniforms and spacesuits– without the requirement for animal fur or down, states research study co-author Weiwei Gao, a products researcher at Zhejiang University in China.

Studies have actually discovered that aerogels are amongst the very best heat-locking products around2, and they have actually been utilized as insulation in structures3 Fibers made from aerogels are typically too fragile and delicate to be weaved into wearable fabrics, and they tend to lose their insulating residential or commercial properties after cleaning and in damp environments.

Porous core

So the scientists wanted to polar bear fur for motivation. The core of each hair of this fur has lots of small pockets of air that avoid heat from carrying out away, keeping the bears warm in the extreme Arctic environment. This permeable core is surrounded by a thick external shell that is water resistant, hard and versatile.

Radial cross-sectional SEM images of a polar bear hair and encapsulated aerogel fiber showing the porous cores.

Cross area of polar bear fur (left), and the aerogel fiber (right). Credit: M. Wu et al./ Science

Gao and her associates utilized a method called freeze-spinning– which they have actually formerly utilized to make fibers out of a service originated from silkworms– to make strings of aerogel fiber that imitated the permeable inner structure of polar bear fur. To duplicate the external shell, the scientists covered the aerogel with a thin layer of an elastic product called thermoplastic polyurethane, which is typically utilized in sports clothes and devices.

Aerogel can not be extended beyond 2% of its existing length without being harmed, however the polar bear-inspired composite fiber got better to its initial length after being plucked 1,000% pressure, suggesting that it was more powerful and more flexible than previous aerogel fibers, thanks to its elastic finish. The fiber’s insulating residential or commercial properties likewise held up after it was extended to two times its length 10,000 times, and it didn’t alter its structure or shape when it was soaked in water, dried or colored.

Next, the scientists knitted a sweatshirt out of the aerogel fiber and compared its thermal insulation efficiency versus a down coat, a wool sweatshirt and a long-sleeved cotton top. The group got a volunteer to use each garment in a space that was cooled to a cold − 20 ° C, and they determined the surface area temperature level of the 4 clothes products to examine how well they kept heat.

A volunteer wearing a knitted encapsulated aerogel fiber sweater.

The artificial polar bear fur knit, as designed by among the research study group. Credit: M. Wu et al./ Science

Fine insulator

Although the polar bear-inspired sweatshirt was one-fifth as thick as the down coat, it had the very best insulation of all the garments. Its typical surface area temperature level was 3.5 ° C, whereas the down coat determined 3.8 ° C, suggesting that it launched somewhat more heat than the sweatshirt. The cotton and wool t-shirts were the least insulating, with a typical surface area temperature level of 10.8 ° C and 7.2 ° C, respectively. The aerogel sweatshirt’s insulation didn’t break down after a couple of spins in a cleaning maker, suggesting that it might be resilient adequate to be used often.

Shu-Hong Yu, a products researcher at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, states that although the research study represents an action towards producing interesting brand-new thin, thermal fabrics, artificial polar-bear fur clothes is a long method from appearing in a mainstream clothes outlet. The method for producing the fiber is presently too sluggish and energy-intensive to be scaled up for mass production.

But that’s something that the group is dealing with, states research study co-author Hao Bai, a products researcher at Zhejiang University. “We are preparing to enhance its scalability,” he states.

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