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High-tech shirts change their pattern and color in response to pollution or radiation

When I was a kid I thought a pair of my granddad’s adaptive sunglasses, which turned from clear to tinted according to the weather, was just about the coolest thing around.

Still, nothing could have prepared my eight-year-old self for designer Nikolas Bentel’s nifty new line of clothing, called Aerochromics. Bentel has created three different shirts: each of which change in some unique way when they come into contact with different environmental factors.

“I wanted to create something that not only starts a conversation about pollution but also actively participates in the discussion,” Bentel told Digital Trends.

Related: This 3D printed dress was inspired by dragon scales

The first shirt works in a way that is very similar to an everyday carbon monoxide spot detector, which turns black when carbon monoxide is present and clear when it is not. “When carbon monoxide ends up touching the clothing, it’s oxidized by chemical salts,” Bentel says. “This process is what changes the colors. The dye also contains chemical salts made from transition metals. Once the carbon monoxide is removed, these metal salts steal some oxygen from the air and [that] changes the catalyst back to its original chemical form — so the detector spot changes back to its original color. Essentially, the catalyst regenerates in the air.”

The second shirt boasts two small sensors, one on the front and one on the back. When the shirt is introduced into an area with particle pollution like dust or smoke, the sensors trip and alert the small micro-controller embedded in the shirt collar. “Each dot is connected to a circular heat pad that the microcontroller activates when pollution is detected,” Bentel explains. “Each patch has a thermo-chromic dye which changes colors when the patch heats up. Each patch then has a layer of insulation which blocks the dots from outside temperatures, which also retains the heat in the dot.”

The third and final shirt is designed to react to radioactivity. “The dye on the shirt is a nontoxic, chemical process indicator dye that changes color depending upon exposure to gamma or electron beam radiation,” Bentel says. “At greater dosage levels, the radiation indicators exhibit an increased color. Once you have been exposed to a sizable amount of radiation the shirt will not change back. This technology is very similar to radiation indicator dots.”

Bentel’s shirts aren’t cheap: costing $500 each for the first two and $650 for the radiation shirt. However, they’re definitely pretty innovative and make for a bold fashion statement.