Nanotechnology and the Outdoors

01 July 2013

Nanotechnology sounds super exciting.

In my mind it implies complex microscopic machines, in fact, atomic factories with some sort of miniscule propulsion system that transforms things or cleans things or finds and destroys things, all at a sub-atomic level.

I like pictures like this:
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So when I see nanotechnology in outdoor clothes I become super excited and I nudge my wife and point:

‘Look, this baselayer’s well worth the extra £75 - it’s got nanotechnology.’ Generally, at that point, she thumps me over the back of the head and drags me out of the shop by my ear.

Once I’ve calmed down, and my wife explains a few things about reality, I realise what everyone else already knows, it’s just marketing, isn’t it? It sounds great, but sadly (at the moment) it’s nothing new.

Nanotechnology is a branch of engineering that deals with things smaller than 100 nanometres. Using that definition, Gore-Tex and eVent are nanotechnology, Pertex is, even lowly polyester treated with the some hydrophilic substance is nanotechnology. What about Nikwax and a DWR coatings, they’re probably nanotechnology as well? All these things are great and involve a lot of science and technology but they’re not new, are they? They're not sub-atomic robots manipulating the very essence of the fabric that's for sure.

I want nanotechnology to be original and exhilarating, especially if I’m paying extra for it. This is what I want from my nanotechnological garment.

1. I want the fabric to increase or reduce its pore size depending on whether I’m hot or cold.
2. I want it’s thickness to change and it’s insulation properties to alter depending on the conditions and time of year.
3. I want an intelligent hood that fits automatically around my face and doesn’t flap in the wind when I’m not wearing it.
4. I want it to clean itself and dry quickly when it’s stuffed in my bag.
5. I don’t want to have to re-apply coatings when I scrape against a dry stone wall.
6. I want it to last for twenty years and buy me beer every week in the Dog and Gun in Keswick.

For a garment to call itself nanotechnology, that’s what I want.

In the mean time I’ll do what I’ve done for the past 30 years – if it rains hard enough I’ll get wet, if I get hot enough I’ll sweat and if I get thirsty enough I’ll buy my own beer in the Dog and Gun in Keswick.
Here’s a few nanofibres to look out for:

Increased strength - carbon nanofibres or nanotubes.

Anti-bacterial - gold, silver or copper nanoparticles.

Self-Cleaning - nanocrystalline titanium dioxide (TiO2) – reacts with dirt and micro-organisms.

Ultrahydrophobic – modified PTFE surfaces or coating with carbon nanotubes (CNT).

UV blocking nano-materials – zinc oxide, magnesium oxide.

Increased abrasion resistance - carbon black nanoparticles.

Thanks for reading.

Ian Young

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