In Brief
  • Scientists have figured out a means of incorporating graphene to cotton to allow for seamless integration between electronics and textiles.
  • The method was tested by making a motion sensing wearable that even withstood more than 10 washing cycles.

A Better Fit

Smart clothes are a highly promising field of development, where everything from health monitors to LED displays are integrated into clothes. But the textiles developed are said to rely on rigid components, unfit to be worn practically, as clothes.

Now, new research is promising better smart clothes without rigid components or expensive manufacturing. Scientists from the Cambridge Graphene Centre (CGC) and Jiangnan University have developed conductive cotton fabric that is laced with graphene ink.

Jiesheng Ren/University of Cambridge
Jiesheng Ren/University of Cambridge

Graphene is basically single atom-thick sheets of carbon. The two dimensional material boasts many impressive characteristics: flexibility, conductivity, biocompatibility and many others. It sees future applications in batteries, computer chips, electric cars, and endless others.

Those same characteristics lend graphene to an application in smart textiles. The graphene ink used in the experiments is actually nanometer-thick graphene flakes placed in a water-based dispersion.

The flakes have been chemically modified to attract to cotton, and the application process is no different from that used in colored dyes. This makes the textile work even in successive washes.

The research, published in the journal Carbondemonstrated the textile by creating a wearable motion sensor. Their tests revealed that the textile can detect up to 500 motion cycles, even after more than 10 passes through a washing machine.

Wearing Your Tech

Integrating tech into clothes have created all sorts of new smart textiles. Researchers have developed clothing that contains sensors to measure heart rate, breathing rate, and all sorts of bioindicators.

There have also been a spate of electricity-generating clothing. These textiles integrate photo voltaic material or motion-gathering generators into the fabric, to one day give you the ability to charge your phone or power a device using your clothes.

There are thousands of other possible developments for smart clothing, from self-cleaning fabrics to cloth that changes color according to stimuli. These fabrics will be changing how we view clothing and how much tech we really want stuck close to our bodies in the future.