U of Minnesota Apparel Students Prepare to Fly with NASA

Updated: 05/27/2014 9:41 PM
Created: 05/27/2014 7:38 PM
By: Naomi Pescovitz

Fashion and outer space may seem like an unlikely pair, but for a team of apparel students at the University of Minnesota's College of Design, style and science go hand-in-hand.

A group of five female apparel students is heading to NASA's Johnson Space Center this week for "Microgravity U," where they will test new textiles to make gloves for astronauts.

Project leader Karen Fiegen started her design career with different ambitions.

"Pretty dresses, runway, red carpet, all that fun stuff," Fiegen said.

For Fiegen and her team, that dream has changed. As recent graduates, their love for what to wear will take them much higher than any runway.

"We focus so much on the body and the user's experience with what they're wearing. And so I have a much more keen understanding of fit and what a user would want to be feeling against their skin," Fiegen said.

The team is packing up a special case with several different materials to make new gloves for NASA. The current design leaves astronauts' hands sweaty, prone to rashes, chafing and even rotting fingernails.

The group will perform the experiment in NASA's reduced gravity airplane which simulates an astronauts experience in space.

They will test a control material against a quilted, superabsorbent sodium polyacrylate cloth.

"This time we enclosed between two layers of it this crystal material that expands a ton and holds a ton of water," Fiegen said.

They will also test a microfluidic film, a wicking material, and a special pump created for the experiment.

"We had to put together a lot of paper work that involved things like structural loading, calculations and this is stuff that apparel students don't have in their foundation coursework, but engineering students do," said Dr. Lucy Dunne, Associate Professor at the College of Design.

The team hopes to show other young women that a career in technology is at their fingertips.

"Your interests can be as diverse as you want and it's really about how you apply them that gets you into science or engineering," Fiegen said.

The team will have GoPro cameras on the plane, along with a small Goldy the Gopher stuffed animal. When they return they will check how well the experiment worked and show it to middle school girls at the U of M's STEM Summer Camp.

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