Brown University School of Engineering Professor Robert Hurt has been awarded a Department of Defense award to develop a new class of graphene-based stretchable barrier materials for personal protection against chemical and biological threats. The grant, titled “Super-hydrophobic breathable barrier thin films through deposition of functionalized 2D nanosheets and compressive surface texturing,” is worth $1.5 million over three years. With Hurt as principal investigator and co-PIs Francesco Fornasiero (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) and Somnath Sengupta (Powerhouse Consulting Group), the group forms a multidisciplinary research team with expertise in 2D materials; in fabric and glove testing, and in coating methods to apply the new barrier layers for large-scale manufacturing.
The project seeks to develop new types of ultrathin coatings that block the penetration of chemical and biological warfare agents to protect human health. The coatings may be applied to protective gloves worn in areas where chemical or biological agents may be present and will allow the gloves to be thinner and more flexible than the currently available versions, giving the user better range of motion and comfort. The coatings may also be used on surfaces, where they will repel chemical and biological agents and prevent them from spreading and contaminating those surfaces, thus reducing the need for time-consuming decontamination processes.
The new types of coatings make use of two-dimensional materials - a class of atomically thin,sheet-like solids that are now becoming widely available to incorporate into technological devices. These two-dimensional materials form natural ultrathin barriers to the penetration and migration of molecules, including chemical and biological agents. The project will synthesize a variety of two-dimensional materials and will add them to liquid solvents with special additives to make inks that can be cast or printed. The resulting coatings will be subjected to specialized test methods to determine their protective abilities. They will also be tested for breathability, which refers to their ability to allow users to freely perspire through the coatings to enhance wearer comfort and body heat regulation. The project will also compare practical processes for applying these coatings over large areas using techniques such as spray coating and screen printing to inform the development of manufacturing methods.
“2D materials are an exciting new addition to the materials science tool kit for creating new technologies. As super thin sheet-like solids, they are especially promising to incorporate into textiles as thin, flexible layers that block toxic chemicals and thus protect the wearer from hazards in their local environment,” said Hurt.