Ph.D. candidate and Department of Defense NDSEG Fellow Kristy Jost has always had an interest in science. But her path to pursuing a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering is not one that most students take.
“I always loved making clothes,” says Jost, who pursued her undergraduate degree in fashion design at Drexel University. “And I was always interested in science.” After being introduced to the work of a fashion designer who’s mechanical clothes “transformed on stage, but couldn’t be worn” by her undergraduate advisor Professor Genevieve Dion, Jost asked herself what she could do to make technologically advanced clothing practical.
In 2009, Jost presented her ideas at Drexel’s annual Research Day. The original designs included audio and video embedded garments and won first and second place for the budding designer. Several Drexel engineers came by to see her work and indicated that they liked her ideas, but the science behind them was not entirely sound.
Jost and advisor Dion, sought out current Ph.D. advisor Professor Yury Gogotsi, Distinguished University and Trustee Chair Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and Director of the A. J. Drexel Nanotechnology Institute, to improve upon her ideas and to integrate accurate technology into her designs. As part of a collaborative effort, Jost began working with Gogotsi’s research team to develop audio and video enhanced garments as interactive multimedia on the body. Beyond their aesthetic appeal, such garments could also display messages for people with communication difficulties or disabilities.
Jost began looking into technology and materials required to make this idea work and discovered that nothing existed in fabric form. It was then that she and her colleagues set out to invent the technology. She was the first Westphal College of Media Arts and Design student to conduct a research co-op in Gogotsi’s lab and learned how to make supercapacitors, capacitive energy storage devices similar to batteries that are capable of charging and discharging in a matter of seconds. Any electronic device needs energy storage, so Jost found that gaining knowledge about supercapacitors would be valuable for her final product.
Looking to create a garment in one go, Jost has focused on knitting. “I am looking for one ‘seamless’ way to put everything together in one piece,” says Jost. She has at her disposal the Shima Seiki Haute Technology Laboratory directed by her Co-Advisor Genevieve Dion, and housed in Drexel’s ExCITe Center. The lab contains programmable and automated knitting machines that can integrate technology into a fabric, much like the machines integrate other colored yarns for form patterns.
The cost of any garment that integrates this technology will be more expensive than typical garments. The idea is to give value to investing in a garment with this technology. In addition, Jost is taking into consideration concerns such as exposure to electromagnetic fields that the technology may emit. Some commercial jackets have already been developed with linings that block electromagnetic fields from cell phones, for example, and could be integrated into Jost’s technology as well. She and colleagues see applications in the biomedical and military fields, including tracking and relaying information about heart rates and other vitals. But she also sees this technology as beneficial to society in general as well, including applications in personal health, entertainment, work, and communication.
Transitioning from a bachelor’s in fashion design to a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering has been relatively smooth for Jost. “Getting to do the research co-op really prepared me for research as a Ph.D. student,” says Jost. Her enthusiasm and commitment to her research and early accomplishments have garnered Jost several high profile accolades in science and technology. She was awarded a Department of Defense NDSEG Fellowship and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, both top fellowships for science and engineering Ph.D. students. She has also been selected to attend the 63rd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Lindau, Germany, a competitive opportunity to network with Nobel Laureates in chemistry and chemistry-related fields.
Fashion and technology have sometimes intersected, but typically the people working in the fields are either solely fashion professionals or engineers. Jost is excited to be someone who embodies both sides of the equation. “I want to develop real clothes that integrate technology in a very practical way,” she says. “I want the technology to be accessible to everyone. I want to bridge the gap between design and science and make quality and beautiful materials, turning them into fabrics and full garments.”