Futuristic fibres promise new yarns

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New fibres may be able to receive electronic inputs, offering the possibility of programmable clothing. The authors note that this technology, if improved upon, could lead to developments like more flexible heart-monitors and hats that can detect traffic signal changes to assist the visually impaired. 

Journal/conference: Nature

Link to research (DOI): 10.1038/s41586-023-06946-0

Organisation/s: Nanyang Technological University, Jilin University, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences

Funder: This work was supported by the Singapore Ministry of Education Academic Research Fund Tier 2 (MOE2019-T2-2-127 and MOE-T2EP50120-0002), the Singapore Ministry of Education Academic Research Fund Tier 1 (RG62/22), A*STAR under AME IRG (A2083c0062), and A*STAR under IAF-ICP Programme I2001E0067 and the Schaeffler Hub for Advanced Research at NTU. This work was supported by the IDMxS (Institute for Digital Molecular Analytics and Science) by the Singapore Ministry of Education under the Research Centres of Excellence scheme. This work was also supported by the NTU-PSL Joint Lab collaboration. H.G. acknowledges a research start-up grant (002479-00001) from the Nanyang Technological University and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and
the use of High Performance Computing at Nanyang Technological University. H.G. and D.L. also acknowledge support from the MOE of Singapore AcRF Tier 1 (Grant RG120/21). M.C. acknowledges support from the Shenzhen Basic Research Grant (GJHZ20200731095601004, CYJ20200109114801744), Guangdong Basic and Applied Basic Research Foundation (2023A1515030113), and Youth Innovation Promotion Association, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Q.Z. acknowledges support from Suzhou Institute of Nano-Tech and Nano-Bionics, Chinese Academy of Sciences (Start-up grant E1552102), the Natural Science Foundation of Jiangsu Province (BK20220288).

Media release

From: Springer Nature

A new method for making fibres with inbuilt electronics, which could be used in wearable electronics, is reported in Nature this week. Potential applications include hats that can sense traffic light changes, which could help visually impaired individuals, and flexible heart-monitoring devices.

Wearable electronics that can detect and process signals can be made from fibres that incorporate semiconductor devices. However, the fabrication process can introduce defects that limit the performance of these fibres. Lei Wei and colleagues assess the fibre manufacturing process to identify how fractures and defects arise. Using this information, they alter the processing techniques and the combination of semiconductors and fibre materials to produce high-performance flexible fibres with optoelectronic properties.

To demonstrate the capabilities of these materials, the authors make a range of experimental devices. For example, they knit the fibres into a hat that can sense light signals from traffic lights, which could provide assistance to visually impaired individuals. The light signals detected by the hat are transmitted to a cell phone that alerts the user when the lights change from red to green. The authors also weave the fibres into a wristband to make a wearable heart monitor with similar performance to commercially available devices, but with the advantage of fitting more closely to the wrist than rigid sensors. The fibres demonstrate durability under compression and are waterproof, making them suitable for underwater applications.

An advantage of this technology is its industrial readiness, notes Xiaoting Jia and Alex Parrott in an accompanying News & Views. “The instrument that fabricates the fibres includes a fibre-drawing device that is used to produce commercial optical fibres in the telecommunication industry. And once the fibres are generated, they can be knitted or woven into fabric using tools that are already used widely in the textile industry,” they write. They conclude that this work “takes a leap towards embedding micro-computers into everyday clothing”.

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