Innovation in Motion
It is well established that amazing things sometimes happen in laboratories and other research spaces. But no one ever predicted that a University of Delaware collaboration could accomplish what many believed was just plain impossible.
It helped to produce a “smart” sports bra — a sports bra engineered to actually do its job.
If you read that last sentence out loud and a female nearby hears it and snorts coffee out of her nose, please understand. It really is that unbelievable. Women throughout the millennia have endured the discomfort of garments that either gave poor support or relied on extreme compression to control breast movement during exercise.
Some trace the genesis of the sports bra to an exasperated soul who sewed two jock straps together and tried to make it work.
This is nothing like that. The bra in question, the one developed with UD scientists and engineers, is Reebok’s PureMove bra and it sits now on Time magazine’s list of 50 Best Inventions of 2018 and Popular Science’s list of 100 Greatest Innovations of 2018.
No such thing was ever on the radar screen when University of Delaware Professor Norm Wagner and UD alum Eric Wetzel invented shear thickening fluid (STF). It was not in the business plan five years ago when Wagner and UD alum Rich Dombrowski started their business, STF Technologies, to put the almost-magical substance on the market either.
This stuff—which gets stronger when under pressure—was designed for body armor, puncture resistance and protective purposes.
“If you had said that the first product launched using this technology was going to be a sports bra, I don’t know that I would have believed you,” Dombrowski says.
But you just never know where discoveries might lead. This one somehow found its way to Danielle Witek, who was then senior innovation apparel designer for Reebok, the global athletic footwear and apparel company. She came across it in a science journal she reads.
According to Reebok, half of the women who exercise experience breast pain, and 70% are wearing the wrong size garment. One in five women says this problem is an obstacle to regular exercise for them.
Witek wanted to see if science and engineering might have a clue.
Enter shear thickening fluid. It is made of tiny particles, suspended in liquid. When that liquid is hit with sudden pressure or impact, the particles instantly connect, forming strong, solid layers. Later, as the energy from the impact dissipates, the particles move back into suspension as a liquid.