Massachusetts researchers receive grants for development of biological protection uniforms

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts - Amherst and other institutions recently received a grant from the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency to develop a military fabric that will protect against chemical and biological weapons.

James Watkins and Kenneth Carter, polymer scientists from the university, and Francesco Fornasiero of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, recently received a five-year, $1.8 million grant to design the new material. The project is part of a $13 million initiative by the DTRA, the Boston Herald reports.

The researchers predict that the new uniforms could be used in the field in under a decade. The fabric is able to switch from a breathable state to a protective one in response to an environmental threat, such as the presence of a chemical substance.

"The uniform will be like a smart second skin that responds to the environment," Fornasiero said, according to the Boston Herald.

The material contains pores that are only a few nanometers wide, allowing the uniform to protect against bacteria and viruses, which are approximately 10 nanometers in size.

The scientists plan to modify the uniform so it can block against mustard and nerve gas and shed a layer to repel anthrax and other dangerous agents, the Boston Herald reports.

"Mimicking the way real skin responds to threats by exfoliation and shedding of contaminated areas will allow for a dynamic responsive garment, all achieved through controlled chemical reactions in this new advanced fabric," Carter said, according to the Boston Herald.