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Fancy Pants (video)
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Interviewee: David Soane, Nano-Tex.

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Produced by Ann Marie Cunningham

Copyright © ScienCentral, Inc., with additional footage from U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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"Nano-Tex Markets Brand to Become 'Intel Inside' of Nano Materials" - Small
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It's a commonplace pitfall of the holiday season: You wear your best clothes to a party, and then you spill something and ruin them. But this year, your outfit could be stain proof—because one scientist has used nanotechnology to invent fabric that actually repels spills.

This ScienCentral News video reports on cutting-edge clothing that simply refuses to get stained, yet doesn't feel like oil cloth.

Peach fuzz for pants

Chemical engineer David Soane's new textiles are exciting examples of nanotechnology, the technology of the future. But you can wear his inventions today. They have been singled out as key advances of 2001.

After almost 20 years at the University of California, Berkeley, Dr. Soane left academe to found a series of small companies. His main interest was biotech—until a friend at Levi-Strauss suggested that he look into textiles. Using his garage as a lab, Soane began devising ways to use nanotechology to add unusual properties to natural and synthetic textiles, without changing a fabric's look or feel.

What exactly is nanotechnology? It means manipulating matter atom by atom, where measures must be made in nanometers. (A nanometer is one billionth of a meter, only three to five atoms wide.) The goal of nanotechnology is to build tiny machines with extraordinary properties. Over the next twenty to fifty years, these nano-machines' unusual abilities promise to radically change manufacturing, information technologies, and medicine.

Scientists like David Soane have already changed materials with nanotechnology. In 1998, Soane started Nano-Tex, and began inventing a series of ways to improve the strength, durability, and usefulness of natural fibers like wool and cotton. The first is a stain-proofing process that Soane calls Nano-Care.

Other stain-proofing processes coat fabrics, leaving them stiff or fuzzy. Soane's breakthrough was to create tiny structures that he calls "nanowhiskers." Each nanowhisker is only ten nanometers long, made of a few atoms of carbon. These whiskers repel stains by forming a cushion of air around cotton fibers. But they cannot be seen or felt on the fabric's surface, so the fabric stays soft.

To attach these whiskers to cotton molecules, Soane uses an environmentally-friendly method. Cotton is immersed in a tank of water full of billions of nanowhiskers. Next, as the fabric is heated and water evaporates, the nanowhiskers form a chemical bond with cotton fibers, attaching themselves permanently. The whiskers are so tiny that comparatively, a cotton fiber looks like a tree trunk, while the whiskers look like fuzz on its bark.

Soane's nanowhiskers are already on the market in jeans and khakis that repel liquid spills—soda, juice, wine, salad oil and even soy sauce. The nanowhiskers prevent liquid spills from soaking into your clothes. Instead, drops bead up and can be brushed off like liquid lint, leaving no stains.

Next, David Soane promises Nano-Touch, a process that makes more wool and cotton more durable, and Nano-Dry, a means of keeping clothing fresh and free of body odor.

by Ann Marie Cunningham

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