Academic journal article Human Ecology

High Tech Meets High Fashion: The College's Newest Institute Aims to Tailor the Next Generation of Smart Clothing by Joining Designers and Scientists with the Fashion Industry

Academic journal article Human Ecology

High Tech Meets High Fashion: The College's Newest Institute Aims to Tailor the Next Generation of Smart Clothing by Joining Designers and Scientists with the Fashion Industry

Article excerpt

Standing by a workbench in his second floor lab, Huiju Park is building better boots for firefighters, which reduce the stress that comes from wearing more than 100 pounds of turnout gear on every call. Down the hallway, Anil Netravali is creating nanocomposites out of rice starch and cellulose, Juan Hinestroza is developing cotton transistors for the next generation of smart clothing, and Jintu Fan is using custom-built manikins to study the physiological effects of fabric on the human body.

Welcome to the newly launched Cornell Institute of Fashion and Fiber Innovation (CIFFI).

"When I first came here, I saw a department that was well-positioned at a major university and doing excellent fundamental research in fiber science," said Fan, Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Sesquicentennial Faculty Fellow and chair of the Fiber Science & Apparel Design (FSAD) department, who came to Cornell from Hong Kong Polytechnic University. "The time has come for the department to build stronger partnerships with industry, translate great ideas in the laboratories into commercial products, and make a real impact in the industry and in communities."

Fan's vision is for department researchers to foster collaborations between academia and industry and lead innovations in fashion, fiber science and technology, and textile testing. As members of CIFFI, companies can tap into Human Ecology's knowledge base and gain access to everything FSAD has to offer: state-of-the-art fashion and textile studios; the apparel performance lab's 3D body scanners, thermal infrared imaging, manikins, and motion capture system; a prototyping facility with a fiber extruder, laser cutter, and sample loom; and the nanotechnology lab's atomic force microscope and electrospinning machines.

CIFFI is beginning to work closely with retailers in New York City and manufacturers around the world to develop new materials, streamline product development, and promote smart, sustainable fashion.

"If we can bring the parties together, doing the research at Cornell, and scaling up the innovative ideas with the manufacturers and retailers at an earlier stage, we can eliminate an enormous amount of wasted resources," said Fan. "It makes perfect business sense because if you can work well with industry, industry will want to work with you. By founding this institute, we raise the potential for what we can do in design, research, and scholarship."

Thinking green

Before coming to Human Ecology, Netravali worked in Cornell's College of Engineering, first in materials science and then in mechanical engineering. In the 25 years since, as a professor in the FSAD department, he's built an international reputation for his work on fiber-reinforced green composites. He has relied on banana, hemp, jute, kenaf, ramie, and sisal to create biodegradable materials that can be used as an alternative for most anything that can be made out of wood. Now, with his first sample spool of liquid crystalline cellulosic fibers, he's entering a new world of "advanced green composites."

"They're much stronger than any conventional natural cellulosic fibers, almost twice the strength," said Netravali, while sitting across from Park, an FSAD assistant professor who specializes in protective clothing. "There is no waste coming out of the manufacturing process, and the molecules are all very organized with the highest stiffness and the greatest strength possible. And because they stretch much more than Kevlar, and require more energy to break, if you made a bulletproof vest out of these fibers, it would actually perform better than Kevlar."

Park, who has bullet-tested composites in the past, leaned forward. "That's a huge potential to replace Kevlar ..."

"... In certain applications," Netravali interjected.

"If you can make a large sample, we can easily prove the concept," said Park, as the conversation bounced from engineer to designer and back again. …

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