Powering Up Electronics With Cotton Fabric? It's Happening.
Photo by flydime via Flickr CC
Cornell University is about to have a fashion show. And at that fashion show will be clothing made of fabric that is simply electrifying. No, really. Juan Hinestroza, assistant professor of Fiber Science and Apparel Design, has developed cotton threads that, while remaining flexible and comfortable to wear, can conduct electric current as well as a metal wire. Simply knotting the threads is enough to create a complete circuit. A solar-powered dress with this technology literally woven into its fabric will be featured at the upcoming fashion show. But how it works sounds a little familiar. According to the press release, "Using multidisciplinary nanotechnology developed at Cornell in collaboration with the universities at Bologna and Cagliari, Italy, Hinestroza and his colleagues developed a technique to permanently coat cotton fibers with electrically conductive nanoparticles. "We can definitively have sections of a traditional cotton fabric becoming conductive, hence a great myriad of applications can be achieved," Hinestroza said."
This sounds familiar. If you recall, in January we wrote about scientists at Stanford who are able to coat cotton and fabric in an "ink" of nanoparticles that could effectively turn it into a battery. So it sounds like this is a concept of growing interest across the science community, and perhaps we can expect some real progress in the idea of wearable electronics, especially as researchers make the fabric of ever higher quality:
"The technology developed by us and our collaborators allows cotton to remain flexible, light and comfortable while being electronically conductive," Hinestroza said. "Previous technologies have achieved conductivity but the resulting fiber becomes rigid and heavy. Our new techniques make our yarns friendly to further processing such as weaving, sewing and knitting."
Of course, the question of safety as these coated materials are worn against human skin is important to explore, as well as what happens with these materials as they reach their end of life - just what impact do they have on the environment, and can they be recycled? It isn't stopping designers from exploring possibilities, as the fashion show proves. Abbey Liebman, a student at Cornell, designed a dress that uses flexible solar cells to power small electronics from a USB charger located in the waist. The charger can power a smartphone or an MP3 player. That will be the dress featured at the fashion show on March 13th.
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