Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Wardrobe and the Woman 3 : Stephanie Kwolek

Hello lovely bloglets. I know it's been quite a while since we spoke, but I'm hoping you'll all forgive me after reading this week's post! It's another Wardrobe and the Woman, woooooo! (Too keen?) This week’s Woman is Stephanie Kwolek, the brilliant mind behind one of the most important materials of the 20th century: Kevlar.

Kwolek was born in July 1923 to Polish immigrant parents. Her mother was a seamstress, her father a foundry worker and keen naturalist. Their passions fuelled hers and she would later attribute her interest in science to her father and her interest in fashion to her mother. From a young age Kwolek loved learning new things, making discoveries. She spent much of her early childhood exploring the woods and fields near her home with her father, filling scrapbooks with leaves, grasses, wildflowers, each carefully stuck in and labelled accordingly. She also enjoyed making things, notably clothes for her dolls, and later for herself. Early on she wanted to be a fashion designer. Or a teacher. Or a doctor. In the end she went with doctor, as her mother told her she was too much of a perfectionist ever to go into fashion. (HA!)


Kwolek’s university years were not an easy time for women in general. Although by the 1940s, it was becoming more normal for women to go to university, Kwolek still remembered being surprised by the enthusiasm and vigour of Dr. Clara Miller, one of her first lecturers and earliest inspirations. Nevertheless, in 1946 she earned her chemistry degree from Margaret Morrison Carnegie College of Carnegie Mellon University (there’s a mouthful for you...) Unfortunately, at this time very few women were being hired into the workplace. Men were beginning to return from the war, and female chemists with PhDs were more likely to work for a year or two before leaving to become teachers.


Upon graduating, Kwolek decided to work for a while, in order to earn enough money to go to medical school, and so she interviewed at the DuPont Company n Wilmington, Delaware, for a post in textile chemistry. (It turned out that she found the work so exciting that she abandoned her idea for medical school and stayed!) She was interviewed by William Hale Charch (the man responsible for making cellophane waterproof) who told her, at the end of the interview, that he would let her know in a few weeks if she had got the job. In a flash of inspiration, Kwolek told him that she had another offer so he would have to make the decision sooner. Thankfully, her gamble paid off, Charch was impressed and gave her the job on the spot!


“Poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide” (or “Kevlar” to its friends) is the eldest child in a family of synthetic fibres of exceptional strength and stiffness. Its rather-fetching, stronger-than-steel, yellow, fibrous self was invented by Kwolek in 1965, while her group were searching for a strong but lightweight fibre which could be used in tires, in anticipation of a gasoline shortage. Using a unique technique, Kwolek accidentally produced a cloudy solution which, when spun, produced a fibre which would not break when nylon generally would. (I love how many scientific breakthroughs are mistakes. I’m just waiting for my own to happen now, when I forget to take the bin out or something.) Nylon is usually spun from polymer crystals at over 200⁰c. By working with a condensation of those crystals at room temperature, Kwolek produced a buttermilk-like liquid which, once she’d convinced the technician to spin it, cooled into Kevlar.


This astonishing material is five times stronger than steel by weight. It is lightweight, flexible, strong, and extremely heat-resistant. In an interview, years later, Kwolek described the moment she realised what she had done: “I knew that I had made a discovery. I didn’t shout ‘Eureka’, but I was very excited, as was the whole laboratory excited, and management was excited because we were looking for something new, something different, and this was it”. The new field of polymer chemistry was born.

Kevlar fibres - NOT MY PHOTO

Modern Kevlar was introduced in 1971 and though Kwolek had very little to do with the development of Kevlar’s practical uses (having signed the Kevlar patent over to the company and thereby not profiting from DuPont’s products), her contribution to some of the most common objects in daily life cannot be overstated. As it stands Kevlar is used in more than 200 applications, from tennis racquets and skis, to boats and planes, ropes and tires. From space capsules to suspension bridges, fibre-optic cables to mobile phones, oven gloves to fire-fighting suits.


Kevlar vest - NOT MY PHOTO

Most importantly, Kevlar was a game-changer for bulletproof clothing. Whereas steel helmets and breastplates might offer some protection, they are no good at dealing with shrapnel. As a fibrous material, there is a great deal of give in Kevlar, so it is not pierced when a bullet hits it. The bullet is slowed down and stopped as the Kevlar bends but does not break. The week Kwolek died, the millionth Kevlar bulletproof vest was sold. In an interview with the Wilmington News Journal in 2007, she said “At least I hope I’m saving lives. There are very few people in their careers that have the opportunity to do something to benefit mankind”.

Bullet hitting Kevlar - NOT MY PHOTO

Kwolek retired in 1986, but her reputation and achievements remain astounding. Described by DuPont’s chief executive as “a creative and determined chemist and a true pioneer for women in science”, she remains the only female employee ever to be awarded the company’s Lavoisier medal for outstanding technical achievement. Her 1959 paper “The Nylon Rope Trick” won an award from the American Chemical Society and detailed a way of producing nylon in a beaker at room temperature, an experiment which remains a common classroom favourite to this day. In 1980 she received the Chemical Pioneer Award from the American Institute of Chemists, as well as an Award for Creative Invention from the American Chemical Society. She won numerous awards for her work, including the National Medal of Technology, the IRI Achievement Award, and the Perkin Medal. In 1995 she became only the fourth woman ever to be added to the National Inventors Hall of Fame and in 2003 she was added to the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Spun Kevlar - NOT MY PHOTO

Most impressively, Kwolek achieved all of this without ever having done a PhD. She was the only chemist – female or not – at DuPont to have only a BA. (There’s hope for me yet!) Stephanie Kwolek died in June this year at the grand old age of 90, leaving behind an admirable legacy and a material which continues to enrich – and sometimes even save – the lives of many.


Saturday, 27 September 2014

Wardrobe Wants - Technology

There are a LOT of great gadgets out there at the moment, not least in the wearable department, so I thought I'd compile a list. Because the only thing I love more than buying technological adornments for my person is making lists. WHO ARE YOU CALLING A LOSER?

No doubt about it, this is a sexy piece of tech. My current favourite wearable by miles, the Shine is sleek and simple. Although basically it is just another activity tracker, monitoring how much you eat, sleep, and exercise, the Shine's charm lies in its flawless design. Made out of solid aluminium it is small and light, but strong. You can find out how close you are to reaching your daily goals by tapping it and track your progress on your phone by placing the device on top of it. What really swings it for me is its stylistic versatility. It comes in a huge range of colours (my favourite is the wine red) and you can wear it as a necklace, a wristband, a watch, a brooch, or a clip. Fun fact: you can buy this in the shop at the London Science Museum. Friends and Family: hint hint...

The "Bloom" Necklace which you can clip your Shine into - NOT MY PHOTO

Soooo many colours! - NOT MY PHOTO

Or wear it as a kick-ass watch - NOT MY PHOTO

"NFC" stands for "Near Field Communication" which, essentially means, that as long as you have a device (or door) that is NFC enabled, you can do whatever you want with the mere swipe of a hand. Get an NFC enabled front door and you can swipe to unlock it. Same goes for your smartphone. You can also use the NFC ring to turn on wifi or Bluetooth, to share links or information, or to transfer whatever you want to your friends' tablets or smartphones. I love this mostly because of its simplicity. Like most of my favourite wearables, it doesn't try to be a miniature smartphone, it does a few key tasks well. The design is elegant but quirky, it never needs to be charged AND it is the most reasonably-priced at just £29.99. Gimme gimme. 

My favourite is the far-right, the "V1ntage" - NOT MY PHOTO

I've mentioned the "June" before here at Wardrobe and the World so I won't give you a long description now. Essentially, the "June" helps you measure and monitor your skin's exposure to the sun and sends you helpful tips on how best to stay sun-protected. Again, a very simple device that only tackles one problem. I also love the fact that something this sparkly is also practical.

Three colours to choose from  - NOT MY PHOTO


I mentioned the company Artefact in my last post because of their amazing device the "Dialog". While the "Purple" might be far less serious, it is no less fabulous. It is being advertised as "A Locket for the 21st Century". It works by connecting to various social media networks, such as Facebook and Instagram, as well as SMS. You preselect the most important people in your life and will be notified whenever those people send you picture messages or upload photos to their social media accounts. When this happens, the locket will light up but - thanks to the curved lid - this light will be visible only to you. On the screen inside the locket you can swipe through photos, like your favourites, and add certain ones to your "Keepsakes" library, which you can access at any time. There is also an accompanying app to help you manage all of this. This is a beautiful piece of jewellery with a purpose: keeping you close to those you love. A bit cheesy, when I put it like that, but something which appeals to me enormously nonetheless. You charge this by leaving it in a special ceramic charging bowl, which is something else I love. No need to plug this locket into your computer. It's not on the market yet, but I'll be keeping an eagle eye out for this baby. 


A modern-day locket - NOT MY PHOTO

Although in general I'm getting a wee bit bored of fitness wearables, I felt I ought to include the "Up", because it was probably the first wearable device I could actually see myself buying. It does all the normal things such as tracking your sleep, your exercise and activity, and what you eat, as well as having a smart alarm, which will buzz to remind you to get up and move when you've been sitting on your bum for too long. It also lets you input your mood each day and tries to find useful correlations to help you live happier and healthier. It's much sleeker and more elegant than some of its competitors and, although it still doesn't beat the "Shine" for me, it is cheaper and its design probably suits some people better. 

Colours galore! - NOT MY PHOTO

The Linou Notification Watch and Necklace

Now here's something a little different, Linou's gorgeous new devices are not only wearable, but sustainable, merging nature, technology, and fashion. Made out of wood, Linou's notification watch and necklace blend a relaxed aesthetic with a simple purpose: letting you know what's going on in your life, without you having to be constantly glued to your phone. The nifty little triangle in the centre of the necklace, and back of the watch strap, will glow a different colour based on what type of notification you are receiving. Available in three different woods (walnut, bamboo, and sandalwood) the necklace is definitely on my wish list. If you're as excited as I am, head on over to their Kickstarter page and donate! 


Donate $99 AUD (just over £50) and get the necklace at a special "Early Bird" price - NOT MY PHOTO

The "Ringly"

Last, but by no means least for my Wardrobe Wants is the Ringly notification ring. It does a very similar job to the Linou necklace above: when you get a notification (from your social networks, or an email/text/phonecall) a tiny light will light up in a particular colour, based on the notification, on the side, and the ring will vibrate slightly. Although it's a weeee bit out of my budget, I do LOVE the Ringly, mostly because it so Very wearable! It looks like a piece of jewellery, not just a gadget, which rids it of the unfortunate novelty factor many wearables attract. 


This would be the colour I went for. Just... in case anyone was interested... NOT MY PHOTO

SO, those are my Wearable Wardrobe Wants. Any questions about them, or any other wearables indeed, hit me up in the comments box. Now get off the internet and go enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Wearable Tech and Digital Healthcare

Before I begin, I must apologise for my longer-than-foreseen absence. I’ve been dragging my carcass the lengths and breadths of the country in search of gainful employment. Which I duly found, by the way.  Woot. Go me and my new capacity to earn and feed myself. Just like a real adult. Lol.

This week’s article will be continuing the series on Wearable Technology by looking at one of the key industries buying into wearables in a big way: the healthcare industry.

Fitness Wearables - NOT MY PHOTO

Early on, the wearables market was awash with gadgets designed around fitness  and wellbeing. Devices which could tell you how fast you’d run, or how far, how many calories you had consumed or burnt off. The very nature of wearable technology, its interaction with the body perhaps makes it unsurprising that wearable devices would soon branch out, past fitness, to our health.

There are devices which focus on basic things, such as the Netatmo June which measures your sun exposure. Created by a jewellery designer to look like a diamond, the facets of this device play with the rays of the sun and, with the help of a UV sensor, measure your skin’s exposure. The June then communicates this information to your smartphone which will send you handy tips such as “Hey mate, you should probably put a hat on about now” or “Oooh, look at that lovely patch of shade, that looks inviting”. Or, in my case, probably something along the lines of “Hey, Pasty Patsy, I reckon you’d be better off with SPF 1000”.*
*Note: it is highly possible that the writer of this blog has paraphrased the June’s tips. Please do not be disappointed if this device does not talk to you as if you were buds. 

The Netatmo "June" - NOT MY PHOTO

Then there are devices which centre on more specific health concerns, such as Artefact’s Dialog, designed for people with epilepsy. It is estimated that around 600,000 people in the UK suffer from epilepsy (that’s one in every 103). Currently, there are two ways that epilepsy is treated: wearable sensors which detect seizures and alert family members and journals where patients log their daily moods and medication. The Dialog goes one better and does both.

The Artefact "Dialog" - NOT MY PHOTO

Like a digital tattoo, the Dialog is worn directly on the skin, like a sticker. It has an e-ink screen and a variety of sensors which communicate with a smartphone. The sensors can track things such as hydration, temperature, pulse, and other biometrics AND, most importantly, the user can interact with it and input data themselves, swiping to log their mood or double tapping to indicate they feel  a seizure coming on. If the patient is having a seizure, they can grab the module with their whole hand, triggering a call for help. This interactive aspect adds a dimension that sensors could never access. Considering the data picked up by the sensors and the data input by the wearer together can help to lower a patient’s seizure threshold  and educates them on what exactly is going on in their bodies, and how that is making them feel.

The Artefact "Dialog" - NOT MY PHOTO

Another huge entry in the digital health market is Google’s smart lens. Currently working in partnership with the pharmaceutical giant Novartis, Google is developing a contact lens which promises to revolutionise the lives of those living with diabetes. The lens contains a low power microchip and an almost invisible electronic circuit which measures diabetics’ blood sugar levels from their tear fluid. This data is then sent to a mobile device, such as a smartphone.

Google's smart lens - NOT MY PHOTO

Novartis also plans to use this new eyewear technology to help people who are long-sighted. Using a similar technology to that used by a digital camera when it automatically focuses on an object, Novartis want to develop a contact lens which will autofocus on objects, essentially getting rid of the need for reading glasses. So very clever.

Also in the pipeline for the visually-impaired are a new pair of fancy smartshoes. There have been various concepts for smartshoes over the past few years, with brands such as Adidas and Nike developing shoes for athletes with integrated sensors, but they have never made it to the market. Indian company Ducere Technologies, however, are about to launch their product the Lechal (“Lay-chull”, which means “Take me along” in Hindi”), a navigation shoe which will be the very first of its kind.

The Lechal is connected via Bluetooth to Google maps on the user’s smartphone and gives directions by vibrating. It will also monitor statistics such as steps taken or distance walked. This device – which is being offered either as a shoe, or as an insole – promises to offer the user a sixth sense of sorts.

Ducere Technology's "Lechal" -  NOT MY PHOTO

What all of these devices have in common, is the potential to empower those who suffer from particular conditions and to liberate those who are merely health-conscious from constantly having to monitor their physical being and its interaction with their environment. This is one of the key reasons why wearable technology is set to have an enormous impact on the health industry, both short- and long-term. The digital healthcare market currently represents billions of dollars of potential revenue and so it is unsurprising that many major tech players are eager to expand into this area.


Wearables can be used by both doctors and patients; patients so that they can access information without having to consult a doctor, and doctors so they can keep an eye their patients when they’re not in the surgery. These new wearable devices can become monitors for both health and disease. They could be used in clinical trials for remote studies and to collect real-world data, as well as being a tool for medication adherence. Patients will now be more able to look after themselves, changing the relationship between them and their doctors, and giving doctors more time for other patients. Although currently these devices are mostly used to collect data and provide analysis, there is the belief that they will be able to help seek cures, improve outcomes, and – ultimately – be used as a preventative measure, to help people before they get sick.


Although it is true that health-focussed wearables pose some problems, in the form of long-term device maintenance, and people’s concerns over privacy, it is clear that in the long run they could lead to reduced costs and more personalised healthcare. If technology firms carry on along this route, we could be seeing remote consultations and operations, robotic treatments, and advanced digital diagnosis become standard parts of daily life.  Now wouldn’t that be something!

Monday, 1 September 2014

Wardrobe and the Woman 2 : Ada Lovelace

Hi all, happy 1st September! (I suppose this means that summer is officially finished... excellent.) As part of this Technology series, here at Wardrobe and the World, I am going to do a few special Wardrobe and the Women posts, celebrating some of technology's undersung heroines. This week is the turn of the lovely Ada Lovelace.

Ada Lovelace - NOT MY PHOTO

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace – better known as Ada Lovelace – was born in 1815 to the Romantic poet Lord Byron and his wife Annabella Milbanke, who separated shortly after Ada was born. It was not an amicable split, Annabella spent the rest of her life telling fearful tales about Byron’s dirty deeds, and would not let her daughter see even a portrait of him until her 20th birthday.

Ada Lovelace - NOT MY PHOTO

Annabella loved mathematics and raised Ada on a strict diet of science, maths, and logic, in the hope that she might not inherit her father’s dangerous “poetic” temperament. This seemed to work and from an early age Ada had an aptitude for maths and a fascination with machines. When she was 12, Ada decided she wanted to fly and set about designing a flying machine, studying various materials, and birds’ wing spans, and trying to figure out whether she could power her machine with steam. She compiled her findings in a book called Flyology. Not your average pre-teen.

Mary Sommerville - NOT MY PHOTO

Her mentor was scientist and polymath Mary Somerville who introduced her to Charles Babbage, the famous mathematician, inventor, and mechanical engineer. She and Babbage became lifelong friends (he nicknamed her “Lady Fairy” and “The Enchantress of Numbers”) and it was through him, and his Analytical Engine, that Ada achieved lasting fame. Babbage’s Analytical Engine – although it was never built – had all the elements of a modern computer. In 1842, Ada translated an article from French about the device, expanding on it and adding her own observations. This article was simply called Notes and contains several early “computer programs” as well as Lovelace’s own remarks as to the future potential of the machine.

Charles Babbage - NOT MY PHOTO

Due to the elaborate and complete nature of Ada’s programs, and the fact that they are the first to ever be published, she is often known as the “first computer programmer”. Her notes contain the first algorithm ever intended to be carried out by a machine, but Ada’s vision of the potential for this early computer went far beyond number-crunching.

Trial Analytical Engine - NOT MY PHOTO

Despite her mother’s best efforts, Ada had indeed picked up some of her father’s “poetic” nature. She would often question basic assumptions about the world using both her intuition and her imagination, both poetry and science. She called her approach (rather aptly) “poetical science”, referring to herself as an “Analyst and Metaphysician”. This “poetical science” mindset led her to ask basic questions about the Analytical Engine, to explore the ways in which people interact and relate to technology as a tool. Her Notes became one of the critical documents to inspire Alan Turing’s work on the first modern computers in the 40s.

Alan Turing - NOT MY PHOTO

Throughout the 1840s, Ada was never far away from a scandal. Rumours of affairs were started due to her relaxed relationships with men who were not her husband and she loved to gamble. Even after her death she has caused controversy, with many disputing how much Ada actually contributed, and to what extent she was merely developing Babbage’s own ideas.

The Ada Initiative - NOT MY PHOTO

Whatever the truth of the matter may be, Ada Lovelace is widely accepted as a key figure in the development of the modern computer and has come to be the figurehead for many projects and institutions which support and choose to promote women in technology. For example, there is the Ada Initiative which aims to get more women involved in the free culture movement and open source technology, or the computer language “Ada” which was named after her and created on behalf of the US Department of Defense. Every October there is an “Ada Lovelace Day” whose goal is to “raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering and maths."(For those who are interested, this year it is on October 14th). An “Ada Collection” of underwear has even been designed by the company “Dear Kate”, whose advertising campaign shows a number of female tech CEOs displaying the range.


I wonder what Byron would have thought of that... 

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Introduction to Wearable Tech

Wearable technology does pretty much what it says on the tin. Whether you want to measure your blood pressure or sun exposure, answer phone calls while skiing, or charge up your phone with your handbag, someone somewhere will have developed an answer for you.

Not my photo

                But why do we want wearable devices, if indeed we do? Well, first of all, however smart our phones might be, they still fail to provide everything we might want them to. Wearable technology promises to do things a smartphone could do, but more conveniently. Take, for example, the Recon Snow – a set of skiing goggles which can measure your speed and altitude, take pictures, and connect via Bluetooth to your phone so you can play music and read your texts while speeding down the slopes. Quite simply, if you tried to do that on your smartphone you would most likely break yourself, or your phone, or both.

Secondly, wearable devices often respond more quickly. Rather than trying to give you all the information about everything everywhere, they focus on one specific aspect of your being, such as your heart rate. This means they will often have the information before you even think about checking it. It has been said that we humans are inclined to give up on any machine that takes longer than 2 seconds to respond, with Generation Z displaying an average attention span of just 8 seconds. Instead of having to spend the tens of seconds we currently do unlocking our phone (which, apparently, smartphone users do 100 times a day on average)  finding the app we want etc etc etc, a wearable device will be constantly monitoring whatever it is we want to know about and have that information readily available, at the mere click of a button.

And thirdly – and perhaps the silliest reason –consumers can now rationalise their shiny new devices under the pretext of improving their health, fitness, or general quality of life.

The Recon Snow - Not my photo

For those of you reading this thinking “well I think it’s a load of rubbish, no one will ever buy this stuff”, I have to tell you that, in fact, the forecasts are rather good for wearables at the moment. The UK wearable tech market is set to grow 41.8% year-on-year for the next 5 years, with the European market expected to see growth from $308.69m in 2013 to $2.5bn in 2019. Which is bonkers! Amazon seem to think there’s something in it too, as they’ve recently opened their new wearable technology store selling more than 100 new products. There were a huge range of wearable devices at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show and smartwatches were given away at Google I/O. Some people are even saying that the “wearable revolution” could happen much more quickly than the mobile revolution before it.

Smartwatches or Sillywatches? You decide. - Not my photo

So why is wearable tech doing so well? Well, currently wearable technology is still reasonably niche, with few companies dominating the market. What’s more, many of these companies are small start-ups, not the global players we know so well. Certain types of sophisticated hardware (such as sensors and chip sets) are becoming cheaper and thereby more accessible for smaller companies. These companies also don’t need to worry about providing a solid Internet service – as long as the wearable device has a Bluetooth connection, it can hijack the internet provided by the smartphone. Ingenious stuff. The rise of crowdfunding has only boosted this progress further with over $100m being invested in wearable technology through sites such as Kickstarter. A sign many people take as evidence of wearable tech’s potential.  

There are, however, still a number of problems and drawbacks to be addressed. Most importantly, there is currently no evidence that wearable devices are being bought in significant numbers. With many major tech companies hurrying to jump on the bandwagon, the bandwagon has got prematurely crowded full of smartwatches, most aiming, essentially, to act as smartphones you can wear on your wrist. This may be the wrong strategy; wearable technology is supposed to simpler than a smartphone, not merely smaller.

It has also been pointed out – rightly or wrongly – that any device that is marketed as wearable ought to be appealing to women. Although I shudder slightly at the idea that women are mostly interested in things you can wear, it is true that there is often a misconception about the relationship between women and technology that ought to be considered. It has been shown that women are more likely than men to buy tablets, laptops and smartphones and, according to a 2012 study, women also use internet-connected devices more than their male counterparts. Moreover, when it comes to accessories, women are far more likely to wear devices beyond the eye-wear and wrist-wear bracket, such as necklaces or rings. This would all suggest that if you wish to sell your wearable device most effectively, it is in your best interest to consider what will appeal to women.

Not my photo

Which brings us, somewhat controversially, to the biggest flaw in current wearable tech: design. There are those who say that too many of the wearable devices available are too “masculine” in design. Whatever one’s opinion of that idea, it is true that design does not seem to have been a topmost priority for many wearable devices. Which is a grave mistake when you are trying to sell things people are supposed to wear. Sonny Vu of Misfit Wearables has said that wearable devices “need to be either gorgeous or invisible” and I quite agree. Not only this, but they must be varied or customisable enough so that the customer feels they are buying something unique, rather than making a (potentially-obnoxious) statement.

So, wearable devices need to be elegant, useful, and appealing. If that happens, who knows what they could contribute to our lifestyles, if not, they may well end up on the scrap heap again. Tune in next week for a better idea of what wearable tech is actually used for!

Fyodor Golan Phone Dress - Not my photo