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article imageMoth fibers inspire air-conditioned fabrics

By Tim Sandle     Aug 13, 2018 in Technology
Researchers have developed a new fabric, described as ‘air conditioned’, by copying the intricate patterns of silk produced from moth larvae. The fabric will be the basis of new, cooler clothing.
For centuries fabrics formed from silkworm fibers have been created and treasured, with many going for high prices. Silk has the ability to absorb vivid colors and to produce garments that are relatively light and cool.
Taking this premise further, Columbia Engineering scientists have performed studies that show how fibers produced by the caterpillars of the Madagascar comet moth (Argema mittrei), are superior in terms of brilliance and cooling ability than silk produced from any other insect.
The male moth has a wingspan of twenty centimeters and a tail span of fifteen centimeters, which make it one of the world's largest silk moths. The female can lay between 120-170 eggs. The comet moth lives for just one week.
An examination of the comet moth’s cocoon fibers reveals very powerful cooling properties. In addition, the study has shown that the fibers have exceptional capabilities for transmitting various light signals and images. The fibers have nanoscale filamentary air voids that run along the fibers. These trigger a strong specular (that is, mirror-like) reflection of light.
The research was undertaken by examining the optical properties of the silk down to the level of one-dimensional nanostructures fibers. Using the research, the scientists developed a method to create artificial fibers that copy the assembly of nanostructures and which have the same optical properties of the natural fibers.
Commenting on the research and its potential applications, lead researcher Professor Nanfang Yu, told Controlled Environments magazine: “The comet moth fibers are the best natural fibrous material to block sunlight we’ve ever seen. Synthesizing fibers possessing similar optical properties could have important implications for the synthetic fiber industry.”
He adds: “Another amazing property of these fibers is that they can guide light signals or even transport simple images from one end to the other end of the fiber. This means we might be able to use them as a biocompatible and bioresorbable material for optical signal and image transport in biomedical applications.”
The bioinspired fibers will be used for making ultra-thin summer clothing with “air conditioning” properties. The research has been published in the journal Light: Science & Applications. The paper is titled “Nanostructured fibers as a versatile photonic platform: radiative cooling and waveguiding through transverse Anderson localization.”
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