Paola D’Angelo, The Bio-engineer Behind The High-Performance Textiles For US Military

Worcester Polytechnic Institute graduate, Paola D'Angelo, is currently developing high-tech fabrics designed to protect and support soldiers on the battlefield.

There has been talk about a high-performance textile developed by U.S. Army bio-engineer Paola D’Angelo. Designed to protect and support soldiers on the battlefield, the smart fabric is capable of keeping soldiers warm, dry, and safe. Known as the heating textile project, D’Angelo’s work is part of a previous project where she developed a polymer-gel-based coating that can detect anthrax spores.

Credit: Courtesy of Paola D’Angelo via C&EN

D’Angelo, who works at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, spoke to Prachi Patel of C&EN, about her project; “We are developing a heating textile based on a silver nanowire coating to protect soldiers in extreme cold. I have found a way to coat different types of fabric by depositing a solution of nano­wires to form a continuous, conductive network.” She continues, “Applying a voltage to one end of the fabric makes the whole fabric heat up within seconds. We plan to apply these textiles to gloves that would heat a soldier’s hands within seconds at temperatures down to −40 °C. The silver layer is less than 100 nm thick, so it doesn’t add any weight.”

“As a scientist, it’s nice to see products that we created using technology from our basic lab research, especially since those products are going to help our soldiers”.

A graduate of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, D’Angelo is currently developing other high-tech fabrics. “I am working with Natick chemist Elizabeth Hirst on a hydrogel coating that will be incorporated into textiles to increase comfort in cold conditions. Soldiers in the Arctic have to wear so many layers of clothing that sweat accumulates in places like the shirt cuffs and neck, where it freezes because there’s no way for it to evaporate. The hydrogels would absorb that sweat, and when soldiers get back to camp or base, they can dry the garment and reuse the hydrogel,” she told Patel. Adding, “We’re also developing textiles that detect and respond to changes in temperature. We use liquid crystals, the same material used in LCD screens. Liquid-crystal molecules change their conformation or orientation based on the temperature. The idea is to integrate them into the textile fibre so that the garment protects against temperature changes. Liquid crystal rearrangement would cause the pores of the textile to open to make it more breathable in a hot environment or to close if the soldier is in a cold environment”.

As an engineer, D’Angelo works closely with textile technologists so she can meet a soldiers’ requirements. On this, D’Angelo admitted to Patel that they are working with silver nanowire technology which means that instead of taking 10–15 years, it will take them five to come up with feasible options. On her project, D’Angelo shared, “As a scientist, it’s nice to see products that we created using technology from our basic lab research, especially since those products are going to help our soldiers”.

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