Home / Blog / A Full Metal Doctor’s Jacket

A Full Metal Doctor’s Jacket

Of the great pleasures of being part of the wonderful world of technology is seeing the many brilliant uses that people make of it. When I look at the types of applications our clients are working on, I get to see how technology is harnessed to make manufacturing more productive, transportation more reliable, defense more accurate, and medicine better able to save lives. It’s very gratifying to know that Critical Link is playing a critical role in so many applications.

Whether it has anything to do with Critical Link or not, however, I’m always on the lookout for stories on how innovative technology can be beneficial. One application I recently came upon was written up in The Economist.

A scientist in the UK has perfected a way to make the clothing doctors and nurses wear “germ-proof.”

Gold and silver have properties that are antibacterial and are used as coatings for some medical implants. But metallic coatings haven’t worked so well on fabrics: they’re quickly washed away.

Dr. Liu Xuqing has devised a process that enables antibacterial metallic coatings to cling to fabrics. And his metal of choice is copper, which is cheaper than gold and silver and thus more practical for scrubs and other medical clothing that’s frequently laundered.

Working with colleagues from two Chinese institutions, Northwest Minzu University in Lanzhou and Southwest University in Chongqing, Dr Liu has been treating samples of fabric with a chemical process that grafts what is called a “polymer brush” onto their surfaces. As the name suggests, when viewed at a resolution of a few nanometres (billionths of a metre) through an electron microscope, the polymer strands look like tiny protruding bristles. That done they use a second chemical procedure to coat the bristles with a catalyst.

After this, they immerse the fabric in a copper-containing solution from which the catalyst causes the metal to precipitate and form tiny particles that anchor themselves to the polymer brush. Indeed, they bond so tightly that Dr Liu compares the resulting coating to reinforced concrete. Yet the process takes place at such a minute scale on the surface of the fabric that it should not affect the feel or quality of the finished material. (Source: The Economist)

The fabric kills e coli and staph, and makes it through more than 30 washes.

Dr. Liu is also exploring other uses, including making:

…conductive threads that could form part of electrical circuits woven into clothing. Such circuits might, for instance, link sensors that monitor the body. They might even carry current and signals to other fibres, treated to change colour in response, to produce fabrics that vary in hue and pattern—maybe to reflect, as detected by sensors, the wearer’s mood.”

I don’t know that I necessarily want to be able to read someone’s mood from the shirt they’re wearing. I think I’ll stick with watching someone’s face and body language, and listening to their tone of voice!

But full metal doctors’ jackets that prevent germs from getting passed around – this is one innovation that once again demonstrates why technology is such an exciting field to work in.