Scientists in Germany have developed what they claim to be the world's first fabrics which effectively screen out both electromagnetic (EM) and infrared (IR) radiation and have wide-ranging uses, especially in protective and military clothing.

Until now, textile materials have only offered a choice of protection, either from the so-called “electrosmog” caused by electrical devices, or from thermal radiation, for example from sources of fire or intensive solar radiation.

But now researchers at the Hohenstein Institute, in partnership with the ITCF Denkendorf, have given artificial fibres a screening effect either by incorporating or coating them with indium tin oxide (ITO), a transparent oxide compound which is also used in the touchscreens of smart phones.

In tests, the textile treatment proved to be resistant to washing, abrasion and weathering. Also, the treatment is not biologically harmful, and the garments remained comfortable to wear.

“These novel materials are not only extremely effective at screening radiation but they also conduct electricity so they are anti-static,” explains project leader Dr Edith Claßen. “This makes them ideal for use in Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for firemen, workers in foundries and welding workshops, in the semiconductor industry or for maintenance staff working on telecommunications systems.”

The multifunctional materials may well also be of interest to the military: if used for uniforms, they make the wearer “invisible” to infrared cameras and at the same time they give protection from electromagnetic radiation.