Highlighting the importance of function in clothing design, a team of apparel experts in Iowa State University’s College of Human Sciences was among four finalists in a national competition to develop a method for non-destructive testing of ballistic vests used by law enforcement, with the goal of predicting the useful life of the soft body armor.
In the U.S. Department of Justice challenge, five professors in the Iowa State apparel, merchandising, and design program—Ellen McKinney, Cheryl Farr, Young-A Lee, Chunhui Xiang and Fatma Baytar—proposed creative and effective ways to determine if police soft body armor will last for more than five years. Judges found it “impressive” that Iowa State’s research included interviews with police department employees to learn what they wanted in their protective gear. The team received a $6,250 award from the National Institute of Justice for its proposed solution, which included the use of sacrificial patches to assess aging of the soft body armor.
Iowa State has the opportunity to establish itself nationally and internationally as having design experts for apparel challenges in criminal justice, said Farr, the recently retired Noma Scott Lloyd Chair in Textiles and Clothing. Only a handful of universities are engaged in this type of research, and no single strong university competitor dominates in the United States, she said.
Aiding the research at Iowa State is a new product development and testing lab developed under Farr’s leadership. The lab includes high-tech equipment and an environmental chamber that allows researchers to see how apparel will react in simulated work environments under certain temperatures and humidity, and when exposed to air and ultraviolet light.
The work of Iowa State’s product development and technical design team extends beyond protective gear to “all aspects of worn products design, from textile materials, to pattern, to construction, to testing, to user perception, including expertise in advanced technology to solve problems,” McKinney said. “We are continually looking for more such projects to take on—medical, military, athletic, for any type of user.”
The work is interdisciplinary. Researchers in apparel, merchandising, and design have partnered with those in material science, mechanical engineering, food science, and others to find creative solutions to complex problems. They continue to seek new partners in their research.