Fashion Meets Science: KSU Students Develop Liquid Crystal Garments

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Fashion design students Sarah Kauffman, Lauren Blumenthal, Camille Winslow and Lizz Henrich created liquid crystal garments that were on display at the Kent State Fashion School.

Fashion design students Sarah Kauffman, Lauren Blumenthal, Camille Winslow and Lizz Henrich created liquid crystal garments that were on display at the Kent State Fashion School.

The Fashion School at Kent State is leading the way with innovative fashion by collaborating with the university's Liquid Crystal Institute.

The Fashion School at Kent State is leading the way with innovative fashion by collaborating with the university’s Liquid Crystal Institute.

If you’ve ever come across a mood ring from the ‘90s or watched an “LCD” TV, then you have seen liquid crystals in action. Most people, however, don’t realize that what they’re actually looking at is a new phase of matter.

Kent State University is home to one of the most highly successful scientific institutions in the country, The Liquid Crystal Institute. It also happens to have the second best fashion-merchandising program in the nation. So what results from the collaboration of two such polar opposite fields of study? Fashion that is cutting edge, as well as a potential life-saving tool that could impact nearly 10% of the nation’s population. Four fashion design students of varying ages and class standings have capitalized on this unique collaboration with the development of some liquid crystal garments.

Four fashion design students create garments sprayed with liquid crystals in just one week.

Four fashion design students create garments sprayed with liquid crystals in just one week.

When their Fashion Technology professor, Margarita Benitez, presented them with this challenge, the girls stepped up to the plate and completed the project in just one week! The process started out as any normal dress would: sketching, acquiring the proper fabric, cutting patterns and sewing them together. This time, however, there were some limitations and additional steps. First, the fabric used must be black for the color-changing effects of the liquid crystals to be seen. Laser cutting stencils onto the fabric is also key, so that the liquid crystals may effectively be sprayed on by an airbrush.

This isn’t the first time that the Fashion School has collaborated with the LCI. For years, they have been researching the potential uses of such a combination and currently, a color-changing sock that would particularly benefit victims of diabetes is under development.

According to data from the National Diabetes Statistics Report, 9.3 percent of the American population in 2014 had diabetes. Such an invention could potentially have an enormous amount of success in the medical field, alerting those with critical cases when the temperature of their foot is abnormal and requires attention. Before this can truly hit the market, West says there is still more to develop and research. The proper fabric, for instance, is critical in getting this product right.

John West, Trustees Research Professor at the Liquid Crystal Institute describes liquid crystals as “halfway between a solid and a liquid.” They have “a long, rigid rod structure” with “anisotropic” properties and point in the same direction.

Designers in the fashion industry are constantly seeking innovative and unique ways to stay on top of the competition and stay relevant in their consumer’s minds. Lab research and ever-changing technologies are aiding in this phenomenon. Some of the most inventive designers today include Hussein Chalayan and Iris Van Herpen, who have reached beyond the average person’s imagination and created something truly original. While the recent trend in fashion has involved complex laser cutting and digital printing techniques, it seems that liquid crystals may just overshadow these as the next big thing.

Lauren Blumenthal's dress is equipped with liquid crystals that are sprayed on to stenciled patterns and change colors.

Lauren Blumenthal’s dress is equipped with liquid crystals that are sprayed on to stenciled patterns and change colors.

Although Lauren Blumenthal and Sarah Kauffman both created aesthetically pleasant and practical dresses, they both agree that it may not be hitting the streets just yet. Sarah says that it would most likely be seen in the luxury sector of the market, while Lauren adds that there are certainly some limitations to the usage of these dresses. They are difficult to iron and even wash.

These are just some of the reasons why more work needs to be done with this concept, as well as the reason why you haven’t seen anyone walk around with a color-changing dress yet. While the practical uses of a liquid crystal garment clearly overshadow those of fashion, perhaps someday everyone at Kent State will incorporate liquid crystals into their wardrobe!

liquid crystals

Liquid crystals change color with body heat, or a change in temperature.