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Exploring the science behind your threads

Hang Liu sits at the controls of an wooden, hand-worked loom.
Seated at a loom in her WSU lab, teacher and researcher Hang Liu shows students the science behind the textiles they use and wear (Seth Truscott-WSU Photo).

Textiles are everywhere: In the clothing we wear, on our furniture, in our cars. They give us shelter from the elements, protect our crops, prevent erosion, and help us heal after surgery.

With so much more to textiles than meets the eye, it’s important for students to understand the science behind them—how and why textiles are formed, feel, and function.

Doing exactly that, Hang Liu, assistant professor in Apparel, Merchandising, Design & Textiles, introduces hundreds of Washington State University students to the science behind fabric and textiles through a course supported by Cotton, Inc.

For undergraduates aiming to meet their university science requirement, Liu’s new AMDT 210: Textiles course provides a fascinating and newcomer-friendly entry to science concepts through the medium of the fabrics that are all around us.

“Whether you’re from a scientific background or not, anybody can benefit from understanding something as universal as apparel and fabric,” said Liu. “My course helps students gain an appreciation for science, and for the wonders of the textiles that wrap and shape our world.”

Curious about textiles

Students in AMDT 210 learn about the natural fibers that humans have long relied on, as well as the science behind the polymers that make up our modern manufactured fibers: How these fibers are made, and how their properties can be changed based on what polymers you choose and how you change the factors of production.

At the beginning of the semester, Liu opens to floor for questions from students curious about textiles.

“Their questions touch every topic that this class is designed to cover,” she said. “They want to know why products made from 100 percent cotton have different thicknesses, softness, shrinkage, or wrinkle-resistance. They want to know how fibers become fabric. They want to know how to make functional products, like water- and wind-resistant jackets.”

This spring, Liu enhanced the course thanks to a Cotton in the Curriculum grant from Cotton, Inc. Funding allowed her to implement new teaching techniques, including active and problem-based learning. Liu said the new methods will improve motivation, critical thinking and analytical ability, providing students with lifelong learning skills.

Holding a strip of green cloth, Hang Liu demonstrates use of a large piece of advanced lab equipment.
Working in her advanced textiles lab, Assistant Prof. Hang Liu shows how to place fabric inside a device that measures how clothing will weather (Seth Truscott-WSU Photo).

By the time students leave the class, they’ve mastered cotton, wool, silk, rayon, polyester, and nylon. They know how to use yarn to make clothing, and how fiber becomes fabric. They also understand the environmental impact of textile and apparel production, helping them make sound decisions in industry, careers, and the home.

“Students tell me that what they learn is very relevant,” Liu said, “not only for textile product development and sourcing, but for their everyday lives.”

Window to careers

For many students, the course opens a window into careers and research. They tell Liu that they plan to take more textile classes and seek research opportunities in the field.

“Students often come up to me after class, telling me how much they’ve learned, and how they’re using their new knowledge in their everyday life to select and care for their products and educate their friends and families,” Liu said. “They’re excited to be achieving their learning goals, and to be constantly challenging themselves.

“Every student comes away realizing how broad textiles are,” she added: “How they can be used in many industries, and the enormous impact that textiles have on technology, the economy, and our lifestyle.”

Media Contacts

Hang Liu, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Apparel, Merchandising, Design & Textiles, 509-335-4726