In the ultimate convergence of fashion and function, wearing jeans could scrub the air. Catalytic Clothing, developed by London College of Fashion professor Helen Storey and chemist Anthony Ryan from the University of Sheffield, uses a fabric conditioner to embed titanium dioxide nanoparticles onto clothes. Sunlight triggers a reaction with nitrogen oxide, a pollutant from vehicle exhaust, and converts it to harmless by-products that are absorbed onto your clothing. Don’t fancy being a walking dirt catcher? The particles are odourless, colourless and come off in the wash.
The U.S. is the world’s largest emitter of nitrogen oxide, with Canada fourth on the list, but environmentalists are just as concerned that rapid economic development of China and India will cause emissions to spike. If Catalytic Clothing found wide acceptance, results could be staggering: Ryan claims if every one of Sheffield’s half a million citizens used the product, nitrogen oxide pollution in the city would disappear.
This kind of innovation is part of a growing movement that sees scientists and artists working together, dubbed Sciart. “Fashion changes every three seconds, whereas science can take 10 to 15 years to get something right and to market,” Storey told Scientific American. But science looks to be learning some marketing lessons from the fashion world. Last summer a 14-m-high sculpture, composed of fabric sprayed with the additive, caused a sensation when it was displayed outside New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Researchers estimate it soaked up pollution from roughly 260 cars. The team is now working to bring the product to market so that, for roughly 16 cents a load, everyone can be a human air filter.