Warfighters Getting a Second Skin

A new material could protect the nation’s warfighters from a chemical and biological attack without having to change into bulky, cumbersome additional garments.

Researchers at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Chemical and Biological Technologies Department are working on a new material that could protect the nation’s warfighters from a chemical and biological attack without having to change into bulky, cumbersome additional garments. (Photo by Jason Bortz)

Researchers at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Chemical and Biological Technologies Department are working on the dynamic multifunctional materials for a second skin, more commonly known as “Second Skin.”

The goal is to develop dynamic multifunctional materials that are fully integrated at the molecular level to provide protection against chemical and biological threats upon entering a contaminated environment.

What makes Second Skin novel isn’t that it provides protection, but how it provides protection.

Second Skin could be manufactured into a garment worn as an everyday uniform, similar to the combat uniform worn by today’s soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, but it would have the unique ability to react to a chemical or biological threat almost instantly.

Current chem-bio protection measures require troops to add additional garments to their uniforms if threats are detected, which could take several minutes after the detection of the threat. Second Skin would sense the threat and respond in such a manner to specifically mitigate the threat at the appropriate level.

According to Tracee Harris, science and technology manager for Novel Materials, DTRA CB, the garment would also lower the thermal burden significantly over current chem-bio garments, which are cumbersome and provide limited breathability, especially when worn in high temperature environments.

This would increase the combat effectiveness of troops having to wear Second Skin in environments such as Iraq or Afghanistan where the temperatures routinely are over 100 degrees Fahrenheit or in jungle environments with high humidity.

Companies outside of the Department of Defense are also investing in novel garment material platforms for performance enhancement. Ski apparel companies are looking to develop next generation thermal garments, which have high moisture management capabilities and also provide protection from the cold.

Other athletic companies are actively investing in developing next generation garments that provide highly effective thermal management capabilities while providing comfort to the wearer in various climates.

“I am looking forward to the future impact that Dynamic Multifunctional Materials for a Second Skin Program will have; not only in providing an enhanced [chem-bio] capability to the warfighter, but in the day-to-day lives of civilians,” said Harris. “This broadened scope is where the myriad of possible uses for this kind of fundamental technology developmental effort exist.”

Second Skin is just one of many projects DTRA CB is currently researching as part of the Focused Innovative Technology (FIT) program. The FIT program looks for innovative ideas to create solutions for chem-bio threats against our warfighters and our Nation.

The program was created as a way for science and technology managers to propose new ideas for projects and then collaborate with the science community to include scientists from academia, industry and government research laboratories. Intramural service laboratories such as the Army, Navy and Air Force have also helped identify requirements or address future needs. The results of the program have been projects that are more focused and fill known or projected gaps in chem-bio defense.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Chemical and Biological Technologies Department (DTRA CB) also serves as the Joint Science and Technology Office for Chemical and Biological Defense. The department is committed to protecting warfighters and citizens from chemical and biological threats through the innovative application of science and technology research.

Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Chemical and Biological Technologies Department
Story by Jason Bortz

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