May 20, 2015

Symposium spotlights cutting-edge fiber science

Hyunji Erica Lee at CIFFI
Mark Vorreuter
Hyunji Erica Lee ’16 explains her concept for weightlifting gear that senses lower body movements, helping athletes to achieve proper form during squats. The garment is modeled by Steve Love ’15.

At the Cornell Institute of Fashion and Fiber Innovation (CIFFI) spring symposium May 18 in Clark Hall, Cornell fiber scientist Juan Hinestroza described his work to teach cotton – an ancient fiber used by humans as far back as 5000 B.C. – new tricks.

In the past decade, Hinestroza’s lab has used cotton to create conductive threads to power wearable and portable electronics, textiles that detect and filter noxious gases, and repel malaria-carrying mosquitos and antimicrobial fibers that fight the spread of disease. Currently, his lab is developing water- and oil-resistant cotton fibers free of fluorine, which can harm the environment and human health. A chemical engineer, Hinestroza achieves these breakthroughs by coating traditional fibers such as cotton and cellulose with novel nanomaterials that add functional properties.

“Our group is working on a scale of 5-10 nanometers [one nanometer is one-billionth of a meter] to give new properties to old materials,” Hinestroza said. “We see our approach as science driving design and design driving science. We plan to keep moving the boundaries, and we think that nanomaterials in textiles are a major driver of innovation and will continue to be in the near future.”

At the daylong conference, Hinestroza and fellow researchers in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology and College of Engineering – including graduate and undergraduate students – offered a glimpse of cutting-edge fiber and material technologies that may soon be woven into our clothing and other products. Hosted by CIFFI, which fosters collaborative research between Cornell and fashion industry partners, the event attracted some 50 attendees, including representatives from apparel companies Golden Technologies, Hanesbrands, WINDS Enterprises, L Enterprises, Bemis Worldwide, Global Composite and Intertek.

Like Hinestroza, Yong Joo, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, works on a microscopic scale, developing ceramic and metal oxide nanofibers for enhanced lithium-ion battery performance. He detailed how such technologies could be applied to improve batteries used in hearing aids and open source hardware chips. Huiju Park, assistant professor of fiber science and apparel design, shared his work designing better footwear and protective gear for firefighters, as well as 3-D scanning and modeling to develop smart garments capable of monitoring and protecting human health. Anil Netravali, professor of fiber science and apparel design, summarized his work on biodegradable plant-based composites as alternatives to petroleum-based materials in buildings, furniture and a range of commercial products.

Student presenters shared the spotlight, too, showcasing such projects as a dress shoe that automatically converts from flats to high heels and back, clothes made from optical fibers that strobe in response to music and workout gear that offers acoustic feedback when a weightlifter uses correct form.

“We are growing a platform for partnerships that can translate innovations at Cornell into commercial products in the fashion and apparel industries,” said CIFFI director Jintu Fan, chair and the Vincent V.C. Woo Professor in Fiber Science & Apparel Design. “This symposium is a way to explore new ideas and collaborations.”

Ted Boscia is director of communications and media for the College of Human Ecology.