For anyone who has spent some extended time in their JSLIST (Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology) gear, you should be ecstatic about the new technology currently being developed to replace the JSLIST. For those who are not familiar with the JLIST gear, it is designed to protect the wearer from chemical, biological, and radioactive material.

The JSLIST is comprised of a two-piece suit, hood, gloves, boots, and a chemical mask. The JSLIST was a step above the Battle Dress Overgarment (BDO) or Mission-Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) gear, which was impregnated with charcoal that got everywhere. The BDO suit stained your skin and uniform. The JSLIST is still hot, bulky, and hard to operate in.

The new technology is being developed by the Army and researchers from MIT, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the Air Force Civil Engineering Center. They are working on a “second skin” concept in which the service member can wear a base layer that would give them the same protection as the JSLIST.

How awesome would it be to wear the “second skin” concept base layer instead of the bulky JSLIST?

Here is more of a product description from Popular Mechanics:

“The second skin is a protective fabric engineered with a textile substrate. The design uses responsive polymer gels, including organohydrogels and functional chemical species such as catalysts, according to Ramanathan Nagarajan, senior research scientist for Soldier Nanomaterials at the Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Massachusetts (NSRDEC). Thanks to all those fancy materials, the fabric will be able to sense chemical and biological agents, which will trigger a swelling response within the gels.”

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“The response will close the pores of the textile,” Nagarajan says, “keeping the chemical or biological agent from entering. During this protection state, the threats will also be inactivated, allowing the second skin to return to its normal state.”

An instantly responsive protective fabric has obvious operational benefits. “Right now we’re envisioning it as a base layer for one of our uniforms,” says Paola D’Angelo, a research bioengineer at NSRDEC. D’Angelo adds that the technology can be tailored to any part of a uniform and possibly integrated within it. In its current experimental stage, the second skin is seen as integrated undergarments which offer no impairment to soldier mobility or comfort.

“The second skin is a very, very thin fabric,” Dr. D’Angelo explains. “Right now we’re using a non-woven fabric so it’s very breathable.”

The second skin would add practically no weight, crucially important in an era when soldiers are burdened with heavy uniforms and gear. It would work alongside current protective masks and possibly integrate into head coverings. It would also protect against repeated exposure to chemical-biological agents.

Once the second skin detects an agent and its pores close and neutralize that agent, they re-open up again, ready to protect again. D’Angelo says the polymer gels would have to be periodically “recharged” with bromine to maintain protection against biological agents, but for chem or bio threats, the gels would be effective for “many months” in between refreshes. Importantly, the second skin is safe for unprotected human contact after detecting and neutralizing agents.

Image courtesy of Sgt. Kerry Lawson, 1ST ABCT