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Fashioning new wearable tech with nanowires

A new process, based on boron nitride nanotubes filled with tellurium atomic chains, offers a path to a new generation of wearable technology where electronics that are triggered by light and pressure could be constructed. The use of boron nitride nanotubes help to enhance a material’s quantum tunnelling, helping in turn to self-power wearable devices.

In proof-of-concept studies, scientists from Michigan Technological University have successfully developed a new nanowire used in conjunction with carbon nanotubes, and the initial test results look very promising.

The study aims to address some of the limitations that are inhibiting the next phase of wearable technology, which relate to flexibility (a key feature were wearable technology needs to be integrated into clothing), pressure (so that devices can be operated), and being able to function at different temperatures.

The use of tellurium provides the basis of a material that will bend with movement and not become brittle and snap or refuse to bend at all. The material also provides the basis for a device that will work at different temperatures and hold its charge for a relatively long period of time.

Tellurium is a metalloid similar to selenium and sulfur. The material has a good history in the energy sector, demonstrating some of the greatest efficiencies for solar cell electric power generators when compared with other materials.

The great importance of tellurium for flexible electronics arise from the finding that tellurium atoms in one-dimensional chains can wiggle, providing both continued functionality and, when used in conjunction with boron nitride nanotubes, energy efficiency.

According to lead researcher Professor Yoke Khin Yap: “This is the first time anyone has created a so-called encapsulated atomic chain where you can actually measure them. Our next challenge is to make the boron nitride nanotubes even smaller.”

The research has been published in the journal Nature Electronics. The research article is called “Raman response and transport properties of tellurium atomic chains encapsulated in nanotubes.”

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