Mosquito-proof clothing could be on the horizon after fabric breakthrough

The material is described as ‘Under Armour that blocks mosquito bites’ (Shardar Tarikul Islam / Unsplash)
The material is described as ‘Under Armour that blocks mosquito bites’ (Shardar Tarikul Islam / Unsplash)

John Beckmann, assistant professor in the College of Agriculture’s Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at Auburn University, has been awarded $868,145 (£694,145) by the state of Alabama to develop a lightweight material that blocks mosquito bites while retaining coolness in hot weather.

Having been ‘eaten alive’ by insects himself, Beckmann realised that regular clothing offers little protection.

“It turns out there aren’t any clothes that actually work,” Beckmann told Auburn University. “Even the companies that advertise as such literally do not work. The only way to block them is to wear multiple layers or thick clothing, which is impossible in Alabama.”

Beckmann’s project first started while searching for ideas for applied research that would be particularly useful for the state of Alabama.

To crowdfund more ideas, he created an ideas competition along with the three students in his lab, promising a $100 reward for the best idea.

The only rule was that it had to follow three important criteria: a quickly testable idea, with the ability to generate money, and be useful for Alabama specifically.

Remembering his own camping trips, Beckmann happened upon the idea of a cloth that can actually prevent bug bites, while still keeping cool in hot or humid weather.

He spent a year working on the idea, devising a fabric that, while it does prevent bug bites, is quite thick and not particularly cool.

It blocks bugs through its unique knitting pattern, with a geometric structure that prevents them from accessing skin.

Beckmann said he calls his invention “Under Armour that blocks mosquito bites”.

The hope is that, with this funding, Beckmann will be able to improve the fabric, and one day feed back into the Alabama economy.

Not only will such a product help people stay comfortable and safe from bites when outdoors, but it could also be used worldwide to prevent bites that lead to dangerous diseases, such as dengue fever or malaria.

“This is a very humbling experience, and I am honoured to be considered,” Beckmann said. “I’m kind of shocked. Honestly, a part of me still thinks this was a crackpot idea, and the other part of me thinks this is the best idea I’ve ever had in my life.

“People have vouched for me over my career, and I feel proud to pay those people back. But mostly, I have just sheer awe and hope for the future of the project. I am honoured and hopeful to give back to the community that took a gamble on me.”