Published on 11 Aug 2021

'Smart' fabric stiffens on demand

Scientists from NTU Singapore and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), United States, have developed a new type of ‘chain mail’ fabric that is flexible like cloth but can stiffen on demand. 

The lightweight fabric is 3D-printed from nylon plastic polymers and comprises hollow octahedrons (a shape with eight equal triangular faces) that interlock with each other. When encased in a plastic envelope and vacuum-packed, it becomes 25 times more rigid and can hold up over 50 times its own weight.

An example from popular culture would be Batman's cape, which is generally flexible but can be made rigid at will when the caped crusader needs it as a glider.

This next-generation fabric paves the way for lightweight armour that can harden to protect a user against an impact, protective gear for athletes, and exoskeletons that can help the elderly to stand, walk and carry objects.

Published in Nature, this interdisciplinary research results from a collaboration between experts in mechanical engineering and advanced manufacturing.

Moving forward, the team is looking to improve the material and fabric performance of their chain mail and to explore more methods of stiffening it, such as through magnetism, electricity or temperature.

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