Aerogels are materials that are excellent at retaining warmth, but they are often too brittle to be used in clothing. However, a team of researchers at Zhejiang University in China has discovered a solution to this problem by wrapping the aerogel in a flexible layer, similar to the structure of polar bear hair.

Polar bear hairs have spongy centers wrapped in hard covers, which allow for efficient heat trapping and strength. The researchers replicated this structure by shaping the aerogel into hollow, layered threads and encapsulating them with a coat of flexible rubber. This made the aerogel thread 500 times stronger and able to withstand over 10,000 stretches without compromising its heat-retention abilities. Therefore, with the rubber shell, aerogel threads are now suitable for clothes, overcoming their initial problem of brittleness.

To confirm this result, the scientists created a sweater using the innovative threads. The sweater was found to be five times thinner than a traditional puffer jacket, yet equally warm. Additionally, the sweater proved to be easily washable and could be dyed in any color without losing its heat-trapping abilities. These properties are important to consider when exploring the potential applications of this fiber in clothing production. With these remarkable qualities, mass production of clothing from these threads may revolutionize the industry by creating comfortable and effective clothing. Perhaps in the future, we will look back and say, “back when people still wore puffer jackets…” while we enjoy the warmth and comfort of our cozy, thin, aerogel sweaters.

This study was led by Mingrui Wu, a master’s student in the laboratory of Dr. Hao Bai in the College of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China. 

Managing Correspondent: Marwa Osman

Press article: Mimicking polar bear hairs in aerogel fibers (Perspective article by Science)

Original article: Biomimetic, knittable aerogel fiber for thermal insulation textile (Science)

Image Credit: Image by 358611 from Pixabay

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