by Cyrus Farivar
Hazmat suits to protect against biological and chemical attacks are often made of thick, synthetic rubber that’s impervious to the nastiest toxins. But they’re also impervious to sweat, and people wearing them can typically only work for short periods before succumbing to exhaustion, heat stroke and, occasionally, death.
Now, a joint team of scientists from the University of Colorado and private firm TDA Research have developed a breathable rubber suit made from butyl rubber impregnated with liquid-crystal molecules.
Cross-linked with the rubber, the liquid-crystal molecules arrange themselves into tiny tubes big enough to allow the passage of water molecules but too small for toxic chemicals.
“(The liquid-crystal molecules) organize around water to make little nanoscale water conduits,” said the suit’s co-inventor, Douglas Gin, a professor of chemistry at the University of Colorado. “These little tunnels never dry out and they let water vapor, or anything that’s water-soluble, go in and out.”