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February 1, 2011
ScienCentral

Clothes That Change Color


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   11.19.02
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All too often, you eagerly tear open a holiday package and find something you'd like to wear—but it's arrived in a color you despise.

As this ScienCentral news video reports, a new thread developed for the military will make holiday disappointment and retail returns things of the past. You'll be able to change the colors of your clothes to suit yourself, whenever you please.

Rewiring your wardrobe

At Massachusetts Institute of Technology, professor Yoel Fink and his colleagues in the Department of Material Science have developed an innovative process to combine extremely thin layers of two materials, a plastic and a glass. The result: a new fiber that can reflect all the light that hits it, from any direction. Within the next two years, the U.S. Army plans to weave Fink's new thread into uniforms, to make an optical bar code that will help our soldiers distinguish friend from foe on night patrol, or during the smoke and confusion of a fire fight. (see "High Tech Army Togs")





But Fink's thread could also enjoy a major commercial future in fashion. You might leave home for work in a business-like gray or navy, and switch to a livelier purple or pink in time for your evening out. M.I.T. graduate student Shandon Hart, who collaborated with Fink on the new thread, envisions clothing made from the fiber and equipped with a tiny, lightweight battery pack. When you want to change your suit or dress from, say, black to red, you flick a switch on the pack to zap the fabric with an electric change. Like a radio antenna that lengthens or shortens to tune to a frequency, the thread changes thickness—and your outfit changes color.

At New York's Parsons School of Design, professors and students alike predict that the new thread will follow other military wear—khaki, bell bottoms, and most recently, camouflage prints—onto runways and into high fashion. Timothy M. Gunn, chair of Parsons' design department, believes that "what professor Fink has done is incredibly revolutionary. Think what the club scene, celebrity dressing, MTV and the Oscars will look like." Gunn predicts that the fashion industry "might start by using the thread in accessories, to change the color of a bag or a hat or a scarf. For men, I can see it used to make jackets and even possibly shoes. And imagine how easily you could transform a room—just by changing something simple like a table cloth."




At New York's Parsons School of Design, professors and students alike predict that the new thread will follow other military wear—khaki, bell bottoms, and most recently, camouflage prints—onto runways and into high fashion. Timothy M. Gunn, chair of Parsons' design department, believes that "what professor Fink has done is incredibly revolutionary. Think what the club scene, celebrity dressing, MTV and the Oscars will look like." Gunn predicts that the fashion industry "might start by using the thread in accessories, to change the color of a bag or a hat or a scarf. For men, I can see it used to make jackets and even possibly shoes. And imagine how easily you could transform a room—just by changing something simple like a table cloth."

Gunn's vision may materialize within five years. Yoel Fink has secured patents and has co-founded OmniGuide, a Cambridge, Massachusetts start-up to develop his new fiber and make it available commercially. Its first application probably will be as part of a military communications network. But given the response among future designers at Parsons, Fink's thread has enormous potential to be fashion forward.


 
       email to a friend by Ann Marie Cunningham
               
     


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