With the 2016 Olympic Games right around the corner, a lot of debate is occurring around the safety of the competitors in Brazil. Safety, not in terms of violence, but of health. According to Luke Whelan of Wired Magazine, “Rio de Janeiro’s waterways are about as clean as a dirty toilet bowl—raw sewage literally flows into them every day.” Understandably, this is of extreme concern for athletes competing in certain outdoor aquatic events at the Olympics.
In an attempt to protect the US rowing team from infectious diseases, textile engineer Mark Sunderland has designed an antimicrobial suit. By weaving together synthetic fibres and adding a second layer of antimicrobial finish, the suits kill or obstruct some microorganisms on contact. The caveat, of course, is that these suits do not necessarily inhibit infections.
Researchers at A*STAR in Singapore, meanwhile, have been working to develop a material called imidazolium oligomers, which has been shown to kill 99.7 percent of E. coli bacteria within 30 seconds! It can also prevent new antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria from developing.
Several other apparel manufacturers have been experimenting with antimicrobial textiles and finishes. Samurai Sportswear, for example, boasts fabrics with antibacterial chemicals that resist the production of fungal microorganisms.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Suzanne Lee, who harnesses the reproductive power of bacteria to ‘grow’ garments themselves. Starting with a recipe of yeast and bacteria, the mixture ferments and produces bacterial cellulose, which in turn creates a leather-like material that she then uses as the basis for her designs. Her belief is that the future of clothing could lie in wearing living organisms that work symbiotically with the body.
For the moment, though, we will have to stick to our tried-and-true clothing materials and wait for science to create a world in which we can be both protected from, and work with, bacteria.
Mark Sunderland’s one-of-a-kind unisuits for the US Olympic rowing team contain layers of antimicrobial material designed to protect the athletes from bacteria in Rio de Janeiro’s waterways.
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