News
07/06/2013

Researchers develop smart fabric for wearable devices

UOW scientists have developed a strong and flexible yarn that conducts and stores electricity and could be used to create wearable medical devices and smart clothes.

Researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) at UOW worked with an international team of engineers to develop a novel way to turn small fibres into powerful batteries with ultrafast charge and discharge rates.

The result, published in the journal Nature Communications, is a flexible, wearable supercapacitor yarn – about the width of a human hair – that is made by weaving two nano materials together to form a super-strong carbon nanotube.

Hundreds of layers of nanotubes, which are coated with small molecules of plastic, are woven together with a thin metal wire. This is then spun into a yarn in a similar way to how you would spin wool into thread, ACES Executive Research Director and Australian Research Council laureate fellow, Professor Gordon Wallace, said.

"The highly functional fibres can be integrated into complex 2D and 3D structures using [our] integrated knitting braiding machines. These facilities were recently commissioned as part of an Australian National Fabrication Facility Materials Node expansion”, Professor Wallace said.

The yarn’s flexibility means it can be knitted or sewn into clothing to power wearable electronics, which could be used to monitor movement during training or physiotherapy or to power high-tech fashion accessories.

The mechanical properties of the yarn mean it can add strength to composites often used in automotive components and could be especially useful in electric vehicles.

Professor Wallace said the outcomes from this research were a direct result of the ability to combine expertise and facilities from across the globe to tackle a critical area of research – developments of new materials for energy storage.

“This work highlights the need to integrate advances in materials science with innovative fabrication protocols to deliver effective solution for energy storage,” Professor Wallace said.

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  • Dr Javad Foroughi and Professor Gordon Wallace inspect nanostructured fibres produced at UOW's labs using knitting and braiding machines.