Harvard develops shape memory wool fabric

Materials that have the ability to return to their original state after deformation are widely used in the aerospace industry, robotics, and even in the field of fashion.

Researchers at Harvard University have succeeded in obtaining a new material from wool waste with properties that can be used to create shape-changing clothing.

The basis of the material is keratin, a fibrous protein found in hair, nails, shells of molluscs, as well as wool. Keratin has a number of useful properties that may be of interest to materials scientists, since it forms a helical structure in the form of a single chain - an alpha helix. By combining them in sufficient quantities, scientists have obtained a strong fiber with shape memory.

The researchers began by 3D printing keratin sheets of various shapes, programming their "initial" state by placing them in a solution of hydrogen peroxide and monosodium phosphate. By exerting various types of influence on the sheets, the material can be given a variety of forms for a while.

For example, in one experiment, the team rigidly "fixed" a keratin leaf in the shape of a complex origami star. However, when the star was placed in the water, it turned around and became malleable, which allowed scientists to roll it into a tight tube. Further, as it dries, the shape of the tube became its new stable structure, but after the next "water procedures" the tube again turned into an origami star.

The researchers propose using the new technology to make comfortable bras with customizable cup shapes and sizes, one-size-fits-all T-shirts that will still fit everyone, or garments with ventilation pores that open when exposed to moisture.