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Silver coating may be the future of military cold weather clothing

Engineers at Stanford University have created a coating of silver nanowire that retains up to 90 percent of the user's body heat, allowing wearers to stay comfortable in lower temperatures and reducing visibility to enemy infrared.


U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Sarah Mattison

"Let's say you want to make your clothes reflect heat, you need metal," Yi Cui, the lead scientist on the project, said in Popular Science. "But you're not going to put metal on your body."

The coating allows sweat to pass through it, so troops wouldn't get soaked, and in extreme cold an electric current from a battery could raise the temperature of the silver and quickly warm the soldier. The downside to the electric current is that it would light up any infrared sensors the soldier was hiding from.

To apply the coating, researchers dip garments into a solution of silver. When it dries, it leaves behind extremely thin and flexible nanowires of the metal. It only takes about $10 to coat a garment with the silver, Benjamin Wiley, an assistant professor of chemistry at Duke University, told OZY.

The actual silver used is less than a gram and costs about 50 cents. The main focus of the research so far has been been for civilian use, sweaters that would reduce the need for inefficient heating of homes and offices in the winter. So, there's a chance these fabrics will be available at the mall before they're issued to troops. Cui estimated they would be on store racks by 2018 if there are no unforeseen issues.