Christine Tan, PhD, Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering and Life Sciences Engineering at the University of the Commonwealth of Virginia, found a way to change the color of nanofabrics depending on temperature or the presence of a virus. This is due to the rotation of liquid crystals in the fibers.

Imagine a cleaning cloth that can detect the presence of bacteria or pathogens and change color to another, or a N95 respiratory mask that can detect the presence of a new coronavirus and react in a way that warns the user.

For their work, Thane and his group used an electric spinner, which is similar in functionality to a sugar wool machine. The nozzle generates the material, which is then stretched into fibers and rolled into sheets.

Polymer nanomaterials are made of plastic, such as nylon or polyethylene. It is made of the same material as the plastic soda bottles. Tang Lab produces non-woven nanofibers, similar to reusable shopping bags, which can easily be produced in bulk.

These “smart fabrics” are made of soft, light and elastic materials and can be used in clothing, for example, for camouflage, or for other purposes, such as detecting the presence of a pathogen. They have also been used to create wearable sensors and devices.

In the case of the mask N95, according to scientists, the owner will know “when to change it, instead of just guessing the safe period. With cleaning wipes, “you can keep wiping until it stops changing color.