New rubber suit lets sweat out

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- A new rubber material laced with microscopic channels could be used to make more comfortable, less bulky protective gear for people who work around hazardous chemicals, scientists said on Wednesday.

The new material combines rubber with liquid crystals to block dangerous chemicals while allowing sweat to pass through, two Colorado researchers wrote in the journal Advanced Materials.

Chemical-industry workers and emergency workers now commonly wear suits made of butyl rubber, which is very effective at blocking toxic vapors or liquids. But those rubber suits also trap sweat, making them uncomfortable to wear for anything more than mild physical exertion.A

Soldiers often rely on a heavy, bulky garment lined with activated carbon.

The researchers, led by Douglas Gin of the University of Colorado and Brian Elliot of TDA Research Inc., used a liquid-crystal molecule that creates tiny conduits when combined with rubber.

Molecules of toxic chemicals are too large to fit through the tiny passages, but water molecules are small enough to pass through, they said.

The new material blocks chemicals more effectively than regular butyl rubber, they said.

It could also prove useful for purifying contaminated water, or removing salt from seawater, they said.

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