UC, ARFL team up to develop ‘Iron Man’ type suit for Air Force

University of Cincinnati engineers and the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base are developing a clothing that can charge your cell phone.

The clothing is so technologically advanced that it might remind you of a scene out of “Iron Man.” The clothing utilizes the unique properties of carbon nanotubes: a large surface area that is strong, conductive and heat-resistant, according to the University of Cincinnati.

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UC's College of Engineering and Applied Science has a five-year agreement with the Air Force Research Laboratory to conduct research that can enhance military technology applications. UC's Nanoworld Laboratories, co-directed by professor Vesselin Shanov, is harnessing their expertise in electrical, chemical and mechanical engineering to craft "smart" materials that can power electronics.

“The major challenge is translating these beautiful properties to take advantage of their strength, conductivity and heat resistance,” Shanov said.

The researchers are studying how carbon could replace polyester and other synthetic fibers. UC researchers believe carbon nanotubes will replace copper wire in cars and planes to reduce weight and improve fuel efficiency. Carbon will filter our water and tell us more about our lives and bodies through new biometric sensors, according to the university.

For the military, this could mean replacing heavy batteries that charge the growing number of electronics that make up a soldier’s loadout: lights, night-vision and communications gear, researchers think.

“The only thing holding us back is cracking the code on making carbon nanotubes at scale,” said Benji Maruyama, who leads the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate at the Air Force Research Laboratory.

Graduate student Mark Haase, spent the past year exploring applications for carbon nanotubes at the AFRL. Through the partnership, UC students use the Air Force Lab’s sophisticated equipment to analyze samples. Haase has been using the Air Force equipment to help his classmates with their projects.

“This pushes us to work in groups and to specialize. These are the same dynamics we see in corporate research and industry,” Haase said.


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