The Science of Design: OSU's high tech apparel labs


The Science of Design

On the cutting edge of functional apparel for health, comfort and sustainability


By Lee Sherman, original posting October 26th, 2011










One day last spring, a Nike executive was touring Oregon State University’s apparel design facilities. After being shown the textile lab, the thermal lab and the chemistry lab, he blurted out: “Oh my gosh! This is design with beakers!”

Clothing designs get the sweat test. OSU professors Hsiou-Lien Chen, Brigitte Cluver and Leslie Burns test experimental fabrics and outdoor apparel on "Newton," a manikin that perspires through artificial pores.            (Photos: Jeff Basinger)



He was right — but only partly. Beakers are just the beginning of science-based apparel design in the Department of Design and Human Environment (which also offers undergraduate degrees in interior design and merchandising management). In their investigations, students and professors employ such high-tech instruments as a scanning electron microscope for examining fibers and a $20,000 machine for gauging the moisture-management properties of fabrics. They use a wind tunnel for simulating thermal resistance of protective helmets under walking-speed conditions. They master CAD software (computer-aided design) for rendering functional items like ski boots and running shoes. 


A manikin named Newton is the pièce de résistance of OSU’s apparel labs. Cast in carbon-epoxy and jointed at the elbows, knees, ankles, hips and shoulders, he looks a lot like the Tin Woodsman — that is, until researchers wrap him in an indigo-blue “sweating skin” to measure the thermal properties of clothing. They have used this $200,000 system, manufactured by Seattle-based Measurement Technology NW, to research everything from military helmets for Oregon Ballistics to adult diapers for a Japanese firm specializing in geriatric health care. 


OSU prepares fashion designers who have special expertise in “functional” apparel — that is, clothing made of specialized fabrics for specialized purposes. In Oregon, that often means outdoor and athletic wear. But it can also mean apparel that ensures safety for the military and police, comfort for the old and infirm, and even sustainability for the planet and its inhabitants. 


“We are not an art school,” emphasizes Leslie Burns, department chair. “Granted, we do have the fashion component, the aesthetic piece. But this is a research university, so our program is research-based. We focus on problem solving and commercialization of design.” 


For the complete article and additional information on the OSU Department of Design and Human Environment, click here: