Invisible Film: Protection Against Foreign Contaminants

Primary Investigator: Dr. Jasim Uddin, The University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley

Nuclear, Biological, Chemical (NBC) suits can protect wearers from germ warfare or contamination and from radiation, but they can be sweaty to wear, and have to be either decontaminated or thrown away after use. Jasim Uddin thinks he can make a better one that cleans itself.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley chemistry professor is working to create a fabric woven with nanoparticles that could kill pathogens on contact, and particles that could convert harmful radiation into harmless light or other energy.

“The goal is to protect against any kind of radiation, any kind of microbes,” Uddin said.

He used a research award from the Department of Defense, facilitated by MSRDC, to embed titanium dioxide into cotton fabric, thoroughly coating the cotton strands but leaving the fabric pliable. Other research has shown that titanium dioxide surfaces can kill bacteria, and early tests have indicated the new fabric can also do so. 

But Uddin said the funding ran out before he could test the fabric further against other microbes. He also has made progress in developing fabric that incorporates scintillators, which are materials that become excited by ionizing radiation, absorb it, and re-emit it as light. A low-tech version is glow-in-the-dark paint, but many different compounds can act as scintillators.

“Our goal is to make an invisible film that adheres to fabric,” Uddin said. 

Uddin and collaborators have woven threads of carbon nanotubes that could be incorporated into the fabric. The radiation-absorbing film would stick better to these carbon nanotube threads, and this carbon nanotube yarn also conducts electricity well.

That’s important for the third quality of the textile – a capacity for self-cleaning. Early tests show photovoltaic power generated on the fabric can boost the properties of the titanium dioxide, Uddin said.  When the team stained the material with dye and exposed it to ultraviolet light equivalent to sunlight, the dye faded.

More work is needed to improve the fabric and tests it against a variety of microbes, Uddin said. He also needs to work on the radiation-absorbing film. “We are 80 percent complete,” he said. “We are looking for some additional funding support to complete it.”

Uddin’s goal is not just to produce a useful fabric for the military, but also to help educate a better STEM work force. “This ongoing research project enhances STEM education for minority students at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley,” his team wrote.

“As one of the largest MSI’s in the Texas, our research group and UTRGV actively pursue and recruit Hispanic students to participate in advanced research because we believe these opportunities produce well-rounded graduates that continue into graduate and professional STEM programs across the country.”