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NYU Students Create Shirts that Detect Pollution with Style

Hypercolor clothes, those garments that changed colors with heat, may have gone out of style in the '80s. But there's a new thermochromic sweatshirt in town. Two N.Y.U. graduate students have created sweatshirts that change colors when they are exposed to pollution—anything from car exhaust to second-hand smoke.

The two prototype garments bear a pink heart (see below) or a set of lungs (pictured above). Blue veins on the organs appear when a censor in the fabric detects high carbon monoxide levels in the air. Nien Lam said he and his partner on the project, Sue Ngo, wanted to send a subtle message about air pollution, while also paying attention to style. "Air pollution is kind of one of these things that's all around us," Lam said. "You don't see it but it exists and it's invisible and we wanted to bring that to light."

Lam, 32, who lives on the Upper West Side, added that the sweatshirts are making some N.Y.U. smokers nervous: "When people would step out to have a cigarette, they would see our project, and then feel guilty going out to have that cigarette realizing, 'Oh, this is actually what I'm doing to myself.'"

Ngo, 27, adds that she and Lam got the idea for their hypercolor shirts from a project they saw at the World Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science in September called "Puff." "For the design itself, I drew inspiration from a local New York city artist, Dacops," Ngo said.

Lam and Ngo's interactive project is called "Warning Signs," and it's part of the pair's Masters coursework at the interactive telecommunications program at N.Y.U.'s Tisch School of the Arts. "Another project we're thinking of is using alcohol sensors to sense the level of alcohol you're consuming," Ngo, who lives in Fort Greene, adds. "The liver would be changing color."

The creators, who graduate in May, are looking for ways to produce the shirts in scale, but no price tag has been defined yet.

Click below to watch a video of the thermochromic sweatshirt changing colors.