Kristy Jost: A Collaborative Career Integrating Science and Design

Garments can fulfill an artistic desire to decorate the body and express oneself. They can also provide a means of protection against the elements, and can be tailored for specific tasks like marathon running or swimming. For student designer and scientist Kristy Jost, clothing is not only about aesthetic expression, but also about what a garment can actively and electronically do for its wearer.

Jost has been fascinated by exploring the creation and capabilities of “smart textiles."

“A smart or electronic textile feels and functions like fabric but could also perform the same tasks that your iPhone can do,” Jost elaborates, “Other smart functions include jackets that heat up to adjust to the cold climate outside, or garments that can monitor the heart rate and blood pressure of patients in hospitals.”

 grad student kristy jost

Jost began her career at Drexel in 2007 as an undergraduate majoring in Fashion Design, and after graduating in 2011, transitioned to Ph.D. studies in Material Science and Engineering under the advisement of Dr. Yury Gogotsi. As an undergraduate, she became intrigued with the idea of smart garments. Her professor and now co-advisor, Genevieve Dion, introduced her to the work of Hussein Chalayan, whose Spring 2007 show included clothing that electronically transformed into new shapes through the use of circuited corsets built into the dresses.

“When I saw that show,” Jost explains, “I knew that’s what I had to do.”

Since 2009, Jost has been working in collaboration with the A.J. Drexel Nanotechnology Institute, the Nanophotonics Group, and the Fashion, Product, Design and Merchandising Department. In 2010, she became the first design student to complete a research co-op between the College of Media Arts and Design and the College of Engineering, and subsequently presented her work on textile energy storage in Nice, France at a conference hosted by the International Society of Electrochemistry (ISE) with the support of her advisors Gogotsi and Dion.

Jost’s transition from Fashion Design to a Ph.D. program in Materials Science was, in a word, “seamless,” she says. She received an NSF-IGERT Fellowship, and has already given talks on textile energy storage to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a sector of the army, in August 2011 and at the Electrochemical Society Meeting in Boston, Mass. this past fall.

Jost’s graduate research at Drexel has continued to focus on integrating energy storage into textiles using manufacturing methods widely used in the apparel industry.

“Textile energy storage is a fundamental challenge for the field of smart textiles since all electronics will need a way to be powered using flexible, stretchable, and bio-compatible materials.” Her research was recently published in Energy and Environmental Science, in an article titled “Carbon Coated Textiles for Flexible Energy Storage.” Her paper describes the fabrication of “textile supercapacitors” by screen-printing carbon materials into cotton and polyester textiles. Screen-printing is a widely used technique that can print textile supercapacitors into any shape and design much like logos on T-shirts.

A supercapacitor, unlike a battery, is an energy storage device than can be made entirely of non-toxic materials, and has highly reversible charging and discharging cycles making supercapacitors last for upwards of 1 million cycles. In addition, supercapacitors can charge in a matter of seconds. These devices can be used to power wearable sensors and antennas, or harvest energy from wearable solar panels and other energy harvesting devices.

When presenting her work, it’s common for Jost to hear, “Are you from Fashion Design or Engineering?” Comments like these highlight and celebrate the interdisciplinary nature of her work, and the interdisciplinary spirit of Drexel.

“Working between departments isn’t rare here, it all depends on what you want to do.”


--Darren White