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Scientists work on snakeskin-like bio-warfare suit

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POSTED January 28, 2013 9:11 p.m.

LIVERMORE  (AP) — Scientists are designing a snakeskin-like protective suit that would shield its wearers against a chemical or biological attack.

It may sound like science fiction, but Lawrence Livermore Laboratory scientists call it the "Second Skin," a fabric featuring microscopic tubes that can transform from a breathable state to a shield that blocks tiny chemical molecules.

The San Jose Mercury News reports that scientist Francesco Fornasiero and his team originally developed the technology to desalinate water, but realized it could also be modified for military purposes.

They are currently developing a prototype of the suit for the federal Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which wants to replace the common, bulky hazard suits that can only be worn safely for an hour.

The agency, which is part of the U.S. Department of Defense, is spending $13 million over five years on the Second Skin project.

"Successful second skin technologies ... will provide a new level of comfort and function to the warfighter," Heidi Schreuder-Gibson, of the Army's Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center, told the paper.

The so-called nanomaterial designed by Fornasiero allows sweat and air to pass through, but not the larger biological agents used in warfare, like anthrax.

For other chemicals that may be able to pass through the first layer, the team is creating the snakeskin-like outer layer that could be peeled off after it's contaminated.

"If a specific area of the suit is exposed to an agent, pore blocking will only occur at the exposure site, thus leaving the rest of the unexposed suit breathable," Tracee Harris, manager of the program for the government, told the newspaper.


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