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Cornell researchers turn fibres into electronic components
09
Jul '15
Courtesy: Mark Vorreuter/Cornell Chronicle
Courtesy: Mark Vorreuter/Cornell Chronicle
Researchers of Cornell University have turned cotton fibres into electronic components such as transistors and thermistors, so instead of adding electronics to fabrics, they have converted fabrics into electronic components.

Juan Hinestroza, head of the Textiles Nanotechnology Laboratory at Cornell and his students live in a cotton nano world, where they create clothing that kills bacteria, conducts electricity, wards off malaria, captures harmful gas and weaves transistors into shirts and dresses.

“Cotton is one of the most fascinating, but also misunderstood materials and in a nanoscale world, which is our world, we can control cellulose-based materials one atom at a time,” said Hinestroza.

“Creating transistors and other components using cotton fibres brings a new perspective to the seamless integration of electronics and textiles, enabling the creation of unique wearable electronic devices,” Hinestroza added.

Taking advantage of cotton’s irregular topography, Hinestroza and his students added conformal coatings of gold nanoparticles, as well as semiconductive and conductive polymers to tailor the behaviour of natural cotton fibres.

An article posted in Cornell Chronicle on the Cornell University website quoted Hinestroza as saying that the layers were so thin that the flexibility of the cotton fibres is always preserved.

A student, Abbey Liebman created a dress using conductive cotton threads capable of charging an iPhone.

With ultrathin solar panels for trim and a USB charger tucked into the waist, the garment captured enough sunshine to charge cell phones and other handheld devices, allowing the wearer to stay plugged in.

The technology can also be embedded into shirts to measure heart rate or analyse sweat, sewn into pillows to monitor brain signals or applied to interactive textiles with heating and cooling capabilities.

“Previous technologies have achieved similar functionalities, but those fibres became rigid or heavy, unlike our yarns, which are friendly to further processing, such as weaving, sewing and knitting,” Hinestroza observed.

Synthesising nanoparticles and attaching them to cotton not only creates colour on fibre surfaces without the use of dyes, but, the new surfaces can also efficiently kill 99.9 per cent of bacteria, which could help in warding colds, flu and other diseases.

Two of Hinestroza’s students created a hooded bodysuit embedded with insecticides, using metal organic framework molecules, or MOFs – to fend off malarial mosquitoes.

While insecticide-treated nets are common in African homes, the anti-malarial garment can be worn during the day to provide extra protection and does not dissipate like skin-based repellants.

Other students have used MOFs to create a mask and hood capable of trapping toxic gases in a selective manner.

MOFs, which are clustered crystalline compounds, can be manipulated at the nano level to build nanoscale cages that are the exact same size as the gas they are trying to capture. (AR)

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