Rice University researchers have developed flexible carbon nanotube fibers capable of gathering accurate EKG and heart-rate readings when woven into a fabric. The new material is as soft as cotton but as strong as kevlar. It's also as conductive as a number of metals and may just be the future of wearables.
It can even be worn and washed like normal clothing and its fibers are also far less likely to break when a body is in motion. But how does it perform?
The researchers reported it was better at gathering data than a standard chest-strap monitor and better than commercial medical electrode monitors at taking EKGs.
The clothing consists of a conductive nanotube thread that weaves functionality into regular apparel.
“The shirt has to be snug against the chest,” Rice graduate student Lauren Taylor, lead author of the study, said in a statement. “In future studies, we will focus on using denser patches of carbon nanotube threads so there’s more surface area to contact the skin.”
These carbon nanotube fibers were first developed by Rice University George R. Brown School of Engineering lab engineer Matteo Pasquali. His lab has since studied many applications for the fibers including using them as bridges to repair damaged heart tissues, as electrical interfaces with the brain, for use in cochlear implants, as flexible antennas, and for automotive and aerospace applications.
Initially, the fibers were too thin for a sewing machine to handle. That's when researchers enlisted the help of a rope-maker to create a sewable thread.
“We worked with somebody who sells little machines designed to make ropes for model ships,” said Taylor, who at first tried to weave the thread by hand, with limited success. “He was able to make us a medium-scale device that does the same.”
The fibers are sewn with a zig-zag stitching pattern that allows the fabric to stretch without breaking them. The fibers could have many future applications such as human-machine interfaces for automobiles or soft robotics, as antennas, or as health monitors and ballistics protection in military uniforms.
The new study was published in ACS Publications.
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