Memory foam was developed in 1966 under a contract by NASA's Ames Research Center to improve the safety of aircraft cushions. Ames scientist Chiharu Kubokawa and Charles A. Yost of the Stencel Aero Engineering Corporation were major contributors to this project. The temperature-sensitive memory foam was initially referred to as “slow spring back foam”; Yost called it "temper foam". Created by feeding gas into a polymer matrix, the foam has an open-cell solid structure that matches pressure against it, yet slowly springs back to its original shape.
Yost later founded
Dynamic Systems Inc. in collaboration with NASA to commercialize the foam, including it in both medical equipment such as X-ray table pads and sports equipment such as American / Canadian football helmet liners. After Dynamic Systems sold memory foam products to Becton, the range of products was expanded.
When NASA released memory foam to the public domain in the early 1980s, Fagerdala World Foams was one of the few companies willing to work with the foam, as the manufacturing process remained difficult and unreliable. Their 1991 product, the "Tempur-Pedic Swedish Mattress" eventually led to the mattress and cushion company, Tempur World.
Memory foam was subsequently used in medical settings. For example, it was commonly used in cases where the patient was required to lie immobile in their bed on a firm mattress for an unhealthy period of time. The pressure over some of their body regions decreased or stopped the blood flow to the region causing pressure sores or gangrene. Memory foam mattresses significantly decreased such events. Claims have also been made that memory foam reduces the severity of symptoms (i.e. pain) associated with fibromyalgia.
Memory foam was initially too expensive for widespread use, but became cheaper. Its most common domestic uses are mattresses, pillows, and blankets. It has medical uses, such as wheelchair seat cushions, hospital bed pillows and padding for people suffering long-term pain or postural problems; for example, a memory foam cervical pillow may alleviate chronic neck pain. Its heat-retaining properties may help some pain sufferers who find the added warmth helps to decrease the pain.
Unfortunately, the heat-retaining properties can also be a downside when used in mattresses and pillows so in the second generation memory foam, companies began using open cell structure to better help with breathability. In 2006, the third generation of memory foam was introduced. Gel visco or gel memory foam consists of gel particles fused with visco foam to reduce trapped body heat, speed up spring back time and help the mattress feel softer. This technology was originally developed and patented by Peterson Chemical Technology, and gel mattresses became popular with the release of Serta’s iComfort line and Simmon's Beautyrest line in 2011. Gel-infused memory foam was next developed with what were described as "beads" containing the gel which, as a phase-change material, would achieve the desired temperature stabilization or cooling effect by changing from a solid to a liquid "state" within the capsule. Changing physical states can significantly alter the heat absorption properties of an element, which is why the technology was applied to memory foam.
Since the development of gel memory foam, other materials have been added. Aloe vera, green tea extract and activated charcoal have been combined with the foam to reduce odors and even provide aromatherapy while sleeping. Rayon has been used in woven mattress covers over memory foam beds to wick moisture away from the body to increase comfort. Phase-change materials (PCMs) have also been used in the covers that are used on memory foam pillows, beds, and mattress pads.
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