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Functional clothing? Just combine cotton clothes and organic electronics

By Damir Beciri
8 December 2011

cotton-functional-clothingAn interdisciplinary group of researchers made a breakthrough in cotton fiber research by finding a way to transform everyday cotton into high-tech fabric. Their work could lead to functional clothing – a seamless blend of clothing and electronics that could be used in future hospital clothes with sensors used to monitor medical patients or in sportswear where it could be used to monitor and assist athletes in their performance improvement.

“Perhaps one day we can even build computers out of cotton fibers in a similar way as khipus – a recording device based on knots and used by the Inca empire in Peru”, said Juan Hinestroza, associate professor of fiber science at Cornell who was part of an international team that developed transistors using natural cotton fibers.

The researchers opted for thin layers that could maintain the flexibility of the cotton fibers. The first step was to create a conformal layer of gold nanoparticles over the rough surface of cotton, on which conductive or semiconductive coatings were applied in order to form the devices.

As a demonstration, the researchers used their method to create two kinds of active transistors – organic electrochemical transistors and organic field effect transistors – elements widely used in the electronics industry as components of integrated circuits. Although far from complexity needed for practical applications, the method lays the groundwork for prospective cotton-based circuits.

Aside being lightweight and sustainable, cotton is well known for its mechanical and inherent comfort properties. Combined with cotton based circuits, it could enable fabrics to sense body temperature, automatically heat up or cool down, or monitor vital signs of high-risk patients, as well as to monitor physical effort of high-performance athletes.

Achieved results are collaborative effort between fiber scientists from Cornell, physicists from the University of Bologna, electrical engineers from the University of Cagliari, and materials scientists from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Saint-Étienne.

For more information, read the article published in the journal Organic Electronics named: “Organic electronics on natural cotton fibres”.

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