Army Lab Assisted With Olympic Snowboarding Uniforms

He shrugged it off as just another routine day in his lab, but testing conducted by Dr. Phil Gibson helped Burton Snowboards pick a fabric for the uniforms worn by the U.S. Olympic Snowboarding Team at the 2014 Winter Games.

“They just wanted me to test fabrics,” said Gibson, supervisory physical scientist with the Molecular Sciences Engineering Team at Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC. “I do lots of testing for companies, and (Burton is) just one of the companies that asked me to do some testing.”

The results of that testing, done last year under a Testing Service Agreement between NSRDEC and the Burlington, Vermont, company, were used by Burton to develop its new “DRYRIDE Vaporshell laminate” for the unique patchwork quilt competition jackets that are worn by such Olympic riders as Shaun White and Kelly Clark in Sochi.

“We’re really proud that the 2014 uniform builds on Burton’s legacy of creating fun, unconventional designs that stray from the formal, traditional look of most uniforms,” said Greg Dacyshyn, chief creative officer at Burton. “The vintage quilt and flag print of the jacket combined with the corduroy pants give the uniform an ‘heirloom hippy’ vibe that lines up with snowboarding’s laid-back culture, while paying respect to America’s longstanding creative heritage. It will stand out in Sochi for sure.”

Dr. Jack Obusek, NSRDEC director, said that Testing Service Agreements provide “an important technology transfer vehicle that can help promote working with the commercial sector to find military solutions. This provides a great opportunity for us to collaborate with industry, including small businesses, in understanding and advancing the state of the art in our areas of expertise. Collaborations such as these provide us a great opportunity to engage based on our technical expertise with industry to find solutions for the Soldier.”

Well into his third decade at NSRDEC, Gibson, a snowboarder himself, has considerable experience working with well-known outdoor clothing companies.

“This wasn’t any different from the testing that I usually do,” Gibson said. “The reason I do it is just sometimes I do see things that we would be interested in. So it’s a way to kind of have a continuous survey of what the state of the art is.

“We’re not endorsing,” he explained. “We’re just providing information, and they decide how they want to use it.”

Gibson performed Dynamic Moisture Permeation Cell testing on swatches of Burton’s proprietary clothing. After he developed the DMPC in the NSRDEC laboratories, the Army obtained a U.S. patent for the device and test method in 1999, which has since become a widely used standard in the outdoor clothing industry.

“They didn’t even tell me what they were,” Gibson said of the swatches. “You’re just measuring how much water vapor goes through, how breathable it is.

“I have a set of standards that I test, and then I usually have whatever the company sends, and then I just provide them (with results that compare them to other fabrics).”

When he’s not monitoring the commercial market, Gibson works with his Natick team on garments for American warfighters. He is especially proud of advances NSRDEC has made in flame-resistant and chemical-protective materials.

“That’s, I think, been one of our big contributions over the past decade,” Gibson said. “We’ve made a lot of advances here at Natick, which have been transferred to industry or are going into prototype garments that we’re developing now.”

Meanwhile, Gibson will continue to test for companies such as Burton in hopes of coming across materials that can benefit U.S. service members in the future.

“Things have gotten continuously better,” said Gibson, “and people understand how to combine different materials together in different environments, even within the same garment.”



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