Cornell University researcher Juan Hinestroza is working with the US government to create fabrics made of nanofibres that would render toxic chemicals harmless.
Potential applications include safety gear for US soldiers and filtration systems for buildings and vehicles.
Hinestroza, assistant professor of fibre science in the College of Human Ecology, is a member of two teams that secured more than $2.2m from the US Department of Defense. Approximately $875,000 will go directly to Hinestoza's work.
'These nanostructures could be used in creating advanced air filtration and personal protection systems against airborne chemical threats and could find many applications in buildings, airplanes as well as personal respirators,' Hinestroza said.
The first project, in collaboration with North Carolina State University, is aimed at understanding how very small electrical charges present in fibres and nanofibres can help in capturing nanoparticles, bacteria and viruses.
'Understanding how these charges behave under different environmental conditions can open an avenue to significant improvements in air filtration technology,' Hinestroza said.
The position and distribution of the electrical charges on the nanofibres will be fed into computer-based fluid dynamics algorithms developed by Andrey Kutznetsov of NC State to predict the trajectory of the nanoparticles challenging the filter
The second project, in collaboration with the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), will study the incorporation of new types of molecules - called metal organic polyhedra and metal organic frameworks - onto polymeric nanofibres to trap dangerous gases as toxic industrial chemicals and chemical warfare agents, then decompose them.