Protective equipment has always been central to keeping our military, first responders and medical personnel safe. The COVID-19 pandemic is a sobering reminder of the importance of such equipment and the need for improvements. A team lead by LLNL has developed a smart, breathable fabric designed to be incorporated into a garment in small patches to protect the wearer against biological and chemical warfare agents. Material of this type could also be used in clinical and medical settings.

Existing protective garments do not allow for high breathability and thus increases the risk of heat-stress and exhaustion, especially for highly active military personnel and first responders. Dubbed, Second Skin, this new material is both breathable and protective by successfully combining two key elements: a base membrane layer comprising trillions of aligned carbon nanotube pores and a threat-responsive polymer layer grafted onto the membrane surface. The carbon nanotubes easily transport water molecules through their interiors while also blocking all biological threats, which cannot fit through the tiny pores.