There’s nothing quite as uncomfortable as a clammy, sweat-soaked shirt. For decades exercise-wear manufacturers have attempted to make this sensation obsolete; to regulate wearers’ body temperatures, they have developed synthetic fibers with coatings that wick away perspiration and experimented with loose, breathable weaves. Now scientists have developed what they claim is the first textile that automatically changes its structure in response to outside conditions, releasing more heat as temperature and humidity rise.

Researchers at the University of Maryland, College Park, led by YuHuang Wang and Ouyang Min, constructed this self-regulating fabric from infrared-sensitive yarn that reacts to temperature and humidity. When the microenvironment between a person’s skin and the garment changes, the strands constrict to vent more heat—or expand to hold that warmth closer to the body. The fabric is described in a study published this month in Science.

Our bodies absorb and lose heat primarily via infrared radiation. Traditionally we pile on textiles in winter months to capture this energy, then switch to more breathable material in warmer, more humid conditions so we can release it. But in the modern world one might routinely transition from a rushed, sweaty commute to a frigid, air-conditioned office every day. The researchers working on the new fabric thought a single garment that adapts to these different situations would be more practical and comfortable. Read More