“Can This Sun-Reflecting Fabric Help Fight Climate Change?”
by Jess Craig
Wired, August 23, 2021
I am writing to pitch a news story on the invention of a new metafabric by Chinese researchers which was detailed in a July 2021 Science article.
On December 13, 2020, a volunteer in Sipsongpanna, China donned a seemingly plain white vest and sat in the direct sunlight for one hour. A few feet away, a researcher from the Huazhong University of Science and Technology took infrared photos of the man. Half of the vest was made from ordinary cotton, the other of metafabric, a new textile that essentially acts as a mirror, blocking the sunlight and keeping the wearer 5 degrees cooler than cotton. The fabric is made of synthetic fiber shot through with nanoparticles found in sunscreen and reflective paints such as those on rockets and space stations.
Although the new metafabric is not the first wearable textile to be invented, it is the first to keep the wearer cooler which is becoming increasingly important as heat waves and scorching temperatures become commonplace around the world. You can go to the store today and buy clothing that promises SPF protection; these products reflect damaging UV light which is then absorbed by water molecules around the human body, essentially turning the wearer into a mini greenhouse with a bubble of heat around them. So while these clothes protect your skin from the sun, they make you hotter. Metafabric is different. While it reflects UV light, it focuses on reflecting a type of energy called mid-infrared radiation which is not absorbed by water and therefore keeps the wearer cooler to counter current temperature extremes. According to researchers, the technology is also cheap and easy to manufacture at scale; clothing made of metafabric would not be significantly more expensive than those made of cotton.
I am a freelance journalist; my work has appeared in National Geographic, Foreign Policy, Al Jazeera, Newsweek, The New Humanitarian, and NPR, where I was a 2020 AAAS fellow writing for the science and global health desks.