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22 August 2017

US Military Developing High-Tech Energised Fabrics for Soldiers in Cold Climates

Battling against the bitter conditions of the Arctic can be a challenge no matter what activity you are partaking in, particularly so if the elements are not the only battle you’re fighting. For soldiers dispatched to or stationed in these testing environments, maintaining body heat and manoeuvrability could be the difference between life and death, yet the US military’s cold-weather hand gear has seen little improvement from the designs first implemented more than 30 years ago. The problem has become so prevalent that many US military personnel opt to purchase their own winter gloves from conventional retailers as they actually tend to perform better than their government-issued gear.

Thankfully this may be due to change, as researchers at the US Army Natick Soldier Research, Development & Engineering Center have taken inspiration from research conducted by Yi Cui, PhD at Stanford University and are now exploring the potential of silver nanowires as a way to create high-tech, self-heating clothing for use in cold environments.

The work conducted by Cui’s team began with the synthesis of incredibly fine silver nanowires, which were then placed into cotton to create a network of connections throughout the material. By applying a relatively small current to these nanowires, the fabric can be heated in response to dropping temperatures.

Img: Us Army Natick Solider Research Development & Engineering Centre
Paola D’Angelo and Elizabeth Hirst, PhD, along with their colleagues at the aforementioned research center, are now looking into how to extend this underlying principle to other fabrics more suitable for use in military uniforms, such as polyester or cotton/nylon blends. In this regard they have already achieved some success, finding that by delivering just 3 volts to an area of 1 square-inch they could raise the temperature of the fabric by 100°F (37°C) in approximately one minute; that roughly equates to the output of a typical watch battery.

It is hoped that if these fabrics do become suitable for use in military uniforms, they could allow soldiers to turn the heat up or down in response to changing conditions, substantially reducing the weight and bulk of cold-weather garments in the process as the added heating functionality would reduce the needs for extra insulation. For soldiers travelling long distances while carrying heavy loads, this would be a substantial help.

The silver nanowires are not the only feature being added to these experimental fabrics however, as the team are also incorporating a hydrogel layer designed to absorb sweat, preventing any moisture from reaching the inner layers of the garments and thereby improving upon both the heat-retention of the clothing and the comfort of the wearer. The hydrogel layers are comprised of polyethylene glycol or poly(N-isopropylacrylamide), and can be easily aired out in warmer indoor conditions to remove any moisture after each outdoor excursion.

The team have already managed to make the silver nanowires robust enough to withstand repeated laundering, and now the hope is to achieve the same in regards to the hydrogel layer. The researchers will also delve into the interactions between the nanowires and the hydrogel to better understand how they will perform when used in conjunction with each other, as well as looking for alternative power sources as they fear that batteries may result in too much excess weight.

D’Angelo and her team are first focusing on implementing these features into military gloves, but hope to extend the principle to other garments should the initial venture prove to be a success. If that too goes well, we may even see these fabrics entering the commercial market in the relatively near future.

The researchers presented their results on August 20th at the 254th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for the written word. Currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor, his time at many UK festivals has taught him the importance of keeping warm.

British Athletes Crowdfunding to Make It to PyeongChang Winter Olympics

Ever since the Olympic Games concluded in Rio last year, all eyes have been on PyeongChang for the lead up to the 2018 Winter Olympics. With just six months left until the stars of the snow sporting world all converge on South Korea, the time to find out who will be representing our country there is almost upon us.

Unfortunately for some of our athletes, it might not be anything to do with their ability that keeps them from qualifying for next year’s Games.

Funding for British skiers and snowboarders comes from a national governing body – British Ski and Snowboard – but there isn’t enough money here for every prospective winter sports star. Team GB are usually one of the weaker teams that compete in the winter Olympics, and although they’re growing stronger, their medal chances are always far lower than they are during the summer equivalent Games. As a result of this, the available funding for skiers and snowboarders is heavily reduced.

That’s not ideal when the cost for training and travel is fairly expensive.

In response to the lack of funds, some athletes have resorted to crowdfunding in the hope of raising enough to help them qualify for PyeongChang in the New Year.

One such athlete is Molly Summerhayes whose older sister Katie is one of the ‘Park and Pipe’ team members that actually receives funding from British Ski and Snowboard. Alongside working a full time job, Molly has set up a Pledge Sports page to raise £1500 for a trip to the New Zealand training camp that will help her to qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics. As one of the most promising half-pipe skiers that Team GB has on its roster, Molly’s presence in PyeongChang would be hugely beneficial, but whether or not she’ll make it there is difficult to say for certain.

Other British athletes having to go through the same process include downhill skier Billy Major, who, despite receiving some funding from British Ski and Snowboard, still has to pay £33,500 a year to cover training and competition costs. In his twenty years, Major has already won a number of Youth and Junior titles, but without the necessary funding to keep up his training, his chances of remaining such a strong force out on the snow are falling. Without being able to attract the interest of a large sponsor, he only really has the public to rely on, but even that isn’t sustainable.

“It’s a lot harder than it sounds to find sponsors willing to put in a lot of money,” he explains. “My parents help out as much as they can, but it’s not enough – it’s a constant worry to find the money to keep training. Crowdfunding is really good but it’s not reliable and we can’t do it every year.”

The governing bodies behind the funding of various sports are not necessarily to blame for athletes receiving no money for their training, particularly when it comes to winter sports. There isn’t an unlimited amount of money to go to everyone which means it has to be divided in an appropriate manner. In this situation, the way that makes the most sense is to allocate the biggest amount of funds to the sports where Britain is succeeding the most.

However, this ends up producing something of a catch 22 situation: if the money only goes to the sports where Team GB has some success then they’ll never produce any stars in the other sports. It’ll only be through means like crowdfunding that these athletes will stand a chance.

Or perhaps not.

While people may rely on crowdfunding now, the more successful they are in competitions, the better a chance they’ll have at receiving official funding. This source of income need only be seen as a first step rather than the sole solution, provided that our athletes continue to showcase their skills and rank among the best when its race day. More success equals more money, which in turn is likely to lead to more success.

Rory Tapner, chairman of British Ski and Snowboard, declares that:

“Funding for British snowsports has increased significantly over the past year. Parts of our programme are supported by UK Sport and this has increased recently with more disciplines being funded. Additional fund raising schemes have also been created as we seek to establish Britain as a top snowsport nation.”

Although Britain may never be as successful as nations like Switzerland and Canada where there’s much better access to snow-capped mountain ranges, the nation is still capable of improving its team and producing better results in the years to come.

James Darvill

James is a passionate scriptwriter and reluctant poet with a talent for the dystopian. His love for cold weather sports and hiking in the winter gives him the enthusiasm for writing about keeping warm.

21 August 2017

Wearable Technology Aiming to Say Bye-Bye to Back Pain

Img: Joe Howell/Vanderbilt 
Back pain is a problem that affects most adults sometime during their life, but up until now there’s been no major solution that hasn’t come with its own set of problems. Karl Zelik, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University, believes he’s found the remedy for that, though.

Alongside a team of engineers, he’s developed wearable technology which removes stress from the lower back when doing activities like bending down to pick up something heavy.

Made from a combination of nylon, Lycra and polyester, the device has two straps which run over the shoulders from the chest and down to the waist. These connect to rubber at the lower back which itself is attached to fabric sections around the thighs.

This wearable tech is incredibly slimline and sits nicely underneath clothes without being particularly noticeable or getting in the way. It doesn’t act any differently until a sensor on the chest is double-tapped and the straps become engaged – another double-tap disengages them. Alternatively, it can be done wirelessly over Bluetooth via an app designed by the engineering team.

Zelik tested the device’s capabilities through the use of eight subjects who lifted 25 and 55 pound weights while holding their position at 30°, 60° and 90°. The results showed that pressure was reduced on the lower back extensor muscles by 15% to 45% for every task, a significant change given how prevalent back pain is across the adult population.

This device has great potential when it comes to sportswear as the need to prevent injury is a major concern for many athletes. For certain sports where a lot of strain is put on people’s backs, it would prove to be effective for training thanks to the lack of bulk. Although more work would need to go into the product to make it suitable for a varied range of activities, the team are constantly focused on how to improve their device.

“The next idea is: can we use sensors embedded in the clothing to monitor stress on the lower back, and if it gets too high, can we automatically engage this smart clothing?” Zelik revealed. This would take away the need for people to physically activate the device because it does the job for them, benefitting those who may unwittingly be putting more pressure on their back than they might realise.

The team are hopeful that their device will be beneficial to many people, although stressed that it acts as more of a preventative measure than anything. For those who already have back pain, this technology is not the solution.

James Darvill

James is a passionate scriptwriter and reluctant poet with a talent for the dystopian. His love for cold weather sports and hiking in the winter gives him the enthusiasm for writing about keeping warm.

Russian Icebreaker ’50 Years of Victory’ Smashes Arctic Speed Record

Russia’s nuclear-powered icebreaker '50 Let Pobedy' (translation: '50 Years of Victory') made history on the morning of August 17 2017, covering the distance from Murmansk to the North Pole in an unprecedented 79 hours and setting a new world record in the process.

Img: Tuomas Romu
The journey made by the 50 Let Pobedy under the command of Captain Dmitry Lobusov was to commemorate the historic trip made by another Russian icebreaker, the Arktika, 40 years ago. The Arktika’s voyage marked the first time ever that a surface vessel had reached the North Pole.

However while the Arktika took 176 hours to reach the North Pole, leaving Murmansk at 20:00 Moscow time on August 9 1977 and reaching the North Pole at 4:00 Moscow time on August 17, the 50 Let Pobedy managed the same feat in just a fraction of this time at a total of 79 hours.

Viktor Boyarsky, chairman of the Polar Commission of the Russian Geographical Society, offered some insight into just how this exceptionally-short journey time was accomplished, stating, “[The Arktika’s voyage] was for the first time in the world that a surface ship was reaching the Pole and therefore we were preparing for a year-long drift. We took tractors on-board.

“Today you can travel to the Pole according to the schedule; there is no thick ice there now.”

Alongside changes to the Arctic in terms of its sea ice concentration and overall environment, advances in shipping and icebreaker technologies also undoubtedly contributed to the exceptionally-fast pace.

Vyacheslav Ruksha, head of Rosatomflot, the company responsible for operating Russia’s fleet of nuclear icebreakers, commented on how the voyage of the 50 Let Pobedy served “dual purposes”, telling the Barents Observer publication, “We honour the legendary expedition of icebreaker Arktika and give gratitude to our veterans, and at the same time we demonstrate that today’s Russia, after forty years of successful work in the western part of the Arctic, is ready to take on global tasks such as providing year-round navigation on the Northern Sea Route.”

A conference was also organised aboard the 50 Let Pobedy which brought together representatives of both houses of Russia’s parliament, Rosatom civil nuclear power corporation, and polar explorers of various generations for a diverse program of lectures and discussions concerning topics such as the Arctic landscape, how it is reacting to forces natural and man-made, and Russia’s eventual role in its future.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for the written word. Currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor, his time at many UK festivals has taught him the importance of keeping warm.

18 August 2017

Tickets for 2018 PyeongChang Winter Paralympics Available from Monday

Preparations for the 2018 Winter Olympics in the South Korean city of PyeongChang are well underway, with tickets for the traditional games having gone on sale back in February. Next week however is not short of notable occasions concerning the games, as Monday marks the first day of sale for Winter Paralympic tickets.

Organisers have stated that tickets will go on sale at 2pm on Monday 21st August, with the date being chosen to mark the commencement of the 200-day countdown to the opening ceremony.

280,000 tickets will be available for purchase for events including para alpine skiing, para biathlon, para cross-country skiing, para ice hockey, para snowboard and wheelchair curling. The Olympic Committee are hoping to sell 70% of tickets to the home crowd, i.e South Korean residents. The remaining 30% will be sold overseas.

Any one individual can purchase up to 50 tickets regardless of the chosen event(s).

According to the S. Korean news agency Yonhap News, tickets for the opening ceremony will cost as much as 140,000 Korean Republic Won (KRW), which roughly equates to $123.20 (or £95.63, assuming our currency gets no worse between the writing and publication of this article). Tickets for the closing ceremony will range from 10,000KRW to 70,000KRW.

As for the actual sporting events, tickets to para biathlon, para cross-country skiing and para snowboard events will cost 16,000KRW each. Prices for the preliminaries, semi-finals and finals in para ice hockey and wheelchair curling will range from 10,000KRW to 50,000KRW.

A discount of 50% is available for people of national merit and patriots, people with disabilities, seniors over 65 years of age, and local residents of host cities. Meanwhile discounts of 30% will be given to government agencies, regional governments and non-profit organisations. These discounts do not however apply to the opening and closing ceremonies.

To purchase your tickets, head over to the official site on Monday from 2pm. The games are scheduled to take place from the 9th to the 18th of March 2018.

Paralympic tickets will also be available at the main ticket centres of Seoul City Hall, the Gangwon provincial government headquarters, Gangneung City Hall, the Incheon and Gimpo international airports, and 19 KTX stations from November 6th.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for the written word. Currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor, his time at many UK festivals has taught him the importance of keeping warm.

Plans to Link Famed Swiss-Italian Ski Areas Unveiled

News has emerged from the pistes of Southern Switzerland and Northern Italy which will fill you with either excitement or trepidation, depending on your outlook, concern, and priorities. I refer to the recently announced plans to link the Cervinia-Zermatt ski area, located in the vicinity of the Matterhorn on the Swiss/Italian border, with Italy’s ‘Three Valleys’ of Monterosa some 8km to the south-east.

Looked at purely from the perspective of a winter sports enthusiast, the announcement is momentous as the two areas combined would contain around 530km of piste, making it the second largest ski area in the world according to official figures. Each of the aforementioned areas is famed and beloved by skiers in their own right, so if combined the result would be truly awe-inspiring.

Italian newspaper La Stampa reports that two modern 3S Gondolas would be used to make the 8km connection, each capable of carrying 35 people per cabin. The project is estimated to cost around €65 million, with backers asserting that this would be covered by various ski lift companies and would not require additional public investment.

However environmental concerns have led to some opposition to the project, largely due to the planned route between the two locations. The proposed route passes through an area of pristine alpine valley and could cause significant disruption due to the necessary installation of four to five support towers. This would not only spoil the scenic appeal of the region, but could also cause harm the local flora and fauna as initial installation works are carried out and regular maintenance occurs in the future. One nature photographer quoted in the La Stampa newspaper described these plans as “insanity”, and his assertion is not without merit.

An alternative route plan, which incorporated direct links between Plateau Rosa, Valtournenche, and the Ayas region, was scrapped due to an estimated price tag of €250 million. This does seem to suggest, at least to some degree, that the planners prioritise finances over environmental concerns; if an eco-friendly route was not viable, perhaps the plans should be scrapped altogether…

Before any plans can be put into motion, locals will first get their chance to raise any concerns and objections at a referendum to be held in the Monterosa resort of Gressoney-Saint-Jean.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for the written word. Currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor, his time at many UK festivals has taught him the importance of keeping warm.

17 August 2017

Spider Silk Could Be the Future of Clothing

We’re beginning to realise that clothes can be made out of some of the most unexpected things.

Here on Keep Me Warm we’ve discussed milk-based clothing and how wood chips can become clothing fibres, but now a team of researchers from the UK and Italy have found an even more extraordinary material that could have wearable application in the future – spider silk.

Yes, those freaky eight legged fiends could actually have a use outside of inciting fear in half of the population.

The research, led by Italian Professor Nicola Pugno, investigated the properties of spider silk because of the strength and toughness it displays as an organic material. This silk is light enough to float in the air, yet is also able to hold the weight of a spider and its prey without being damaged, posing many questions about its viability as a clothing material. After all, light and durable are two ideal qualities for certain items of clothing.

“We already know that there are biominerals present in the protein matrices and hard tissues of insects, which gives them high strength and hardness in their jaws, mandibles and teeth, for example,” explained Pugno. “So our study looked at whether spider silk’s properties could be ‘enhanced’ by artificially incorporating various different nanomaterials into the silk’s biological protein structures.”

It was found that through the addition of graphene, the strength of the silk was boosted by around three times and the toughness by ten. The researchers tested this by introducing three different species of spider to water infused with graphene and then analysing the results.

“To combine the nanomaterials and the silk, we sprayed a corner of the box where the spiders lived with the nanosolution. The spiders then drank the solution, and the nanomaterials and the silk combined as the spiders span their webs.”

The strongest batch by these species produced silk with a fracture strength of 5.4 gigapascals (GPa) and a toughness modulus of 1,570 joules per gram (J/g), up from the average of 1.5 GPa and 150 J/g respectively.

With the added presence of graphene proving to have an incredible impact on this silk, the potential application of it in the future is far-reaching. As well as being ideal for making clothes, it could also be used as a material for parachutes, sails and many other things. With a lot more research and testing, this could be just the first of many successful combinations between artificial materials and natural substances.

“This is the highest fibre toughness discovered to date, and a strength comparable to that of the strongest carbon fibres or limpet teeth. These are still early days, but our results are a proof of concept that paves the way to exploiting the naturally efficient spider spinning process to produce reinforced bionic silk fibres, thus improving one of the most promising strong materials.”

Whether spider silk clothing is something in our near future is obviously difficult to know right now, although it will probably be several years until we start to see some real world application of this new discovery. For now, we’ll just have to try and learn to love spiders so that the thought of wearing their webs doesn’t freak us out too much.

James Darvill

James is a passionate scriptwriter and reluctant poet with a talent for the dystopian. His love for cold weather sports and hiking in the winter gives him the enthusiasm for writing about keeping warm.