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Photographs of woven fabric samples stained by a commercial food colourant and subsequently rinsed under running cold tap water

Swatches of polyester, linen, cotton and woven polyethylene (top row, left to right) are stained with food colouring (middle row) then shown after rinsing in plain water (bottom row). Credit: M. Alberghini et al./Nature Sustain.

Materials science

A plastic fabric could keep people cool — and help to fight global warming

The stain-resistant textile needs less washing, which means less energy consumption and lower emissions of greenhouse gases.

Using threads made from a common plastic, researchers have crafted a high-performance fabric that can keep you cool and clean.

Polyethylene (PE) is one of the most widely produced plastics in the world, and can be found in everything from food packaging to detergent bottles. Because the material is cheap and readily available, a research team led by Svetlana Boriskina at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge wondered whether PE could be engineered to make wearable garments.

The researchers used standard equipment from the textile industry to make PE fibres and weave them into fabrics. They found that woven PE not only wicks moisture more effectively than do a number of common fabrics, including polyester and cotton, but also dries faster. As a result, evaporation lowers the temperature of a surface covered with wet PE more than that of a surface covered with wet cotton. Woven PE is also highly stain resistant, and the process of colouring it does not require water.

The authors say that the adoption of woven-PE garments could reduce energy and water consumption from air conditioning and laundering.

More Research Highlights...

Light micrograph of a human egg cell during fertilisation

As a human egg cell is fertilized, two chromosome-containing cellular structures (dotted circles, centre) merge into one — a process that often goes wrong. Credit: Pascal Goetgheluck/Science Photo Library

Developmental biology

The error-prone step at the heart of making an embryo

High-resolution imaging shows why the union between two sets of chromosomes goes awry as least as often as not.
Satellite image of broken iceberg B-44.

Dark water borders chunks of iceberg broken off a West Antarctica glacier. The melting of the region’s ice sheet could allow the bedrock to rise, sloughing water into the ocean. Credit: NASA

Climate change

Antarctic rocks on the rebound could raise sea level much more than expected

When the ice covering the west of the continent disappears, the bedrock could rise up and shove extra water into the ocean.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, Costa Rica

Mist wafts through the trees at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve in Costa Rica. Cloud forests around the world are threatened by development, wood collection and climate change. Credit: Stefano Paterna/Alamy

Conservation biology

Forests that float in the clouds are drifting away

Tropical cloud forests are safe havens for a vast range of creatures and plants, but they are under siege around the globe.
Illustration of a brown dwarf

A rapidly spinning brown dwarf (pictured, artist’s impression) tends to have narrow atmospheric bands; the faster the spin, the thinner the bands. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomy and astrophysics

Dim stars that have failed at fusion are masters of spin

Three brown dwarfs whirl on their axes at a dizzying rate that might be close to the celestial speed limit for these bodies.
Aerial photograph of beef cattle standing at the Texana Feeders feedlot in Floresville, Texas

Large-scale facilities such as this feedlot in Floresville, Texas, help to meet the global appetite for beef and other red meat, which remains strong despite the growing consumption of chicken and fish. Credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty


Meat lovers worldwide pay climate little heed

People are eating more poultry and fish — but they’re not giving up their hamburgers.
Midshipmen at dining table eat in formation, CIRCA 1900

Midshipmen in the United States in around 1900. A study found that body-mass index, a gauge of obesity, has increased with the generations during the twentieth century. Credit: Buyenlarge/Getty


A century of US data documents obesity’s racially skewed rise

An analysis also finds that obesity is common at a much younger age among people born in the early 1980s than those born in the late 1950s.
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