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Advancing wearable tech with graphene

With the ‘new generation’ of wearable technology, visionary technologists are thinking of computers, music devices, smartphones and so on carried or embedded into clothing. The key points relate functionality, weight and ensuring that the devices have sufficient power.

The basis of the technology is transparent and flexible electrodes. These conductors are used in glass and plastic. However, they have proved problematic in relation to textiles. That is until now, where researchers have successfully linked the electrodes to yarn.

This has been achieved using the new ‘wonder material’ graphene. Graphene is the thinnest known substance (at one atom thick) that is capable of conducting electricity. While being very strong, the material is also very flexible.

To manufacture very thin monolayer graphene, researchers used a pioneering method termed chemical vapour deposition (CVD) onto copper foil. Once the graphene was formed, a transfer method was used to add the graphene to a polypropylene fiber (a type of textile used in the clothing industry.) This created a fully textile-embedded transparent and flexible system for use with wearable technology. In tests the graphene-based electrodes were found to be suitably conducive.

The incorporation of electronic devices into textile, whether this be clothing, car seats or even carpets, is considered to represent a new era in consumer electronics.

The study was led by Professor Monica Craciun, of the University of Exeter, U.K. The findings have been published in the journal Scientific Reports. The free-to-read paper is called “Transparent conductive graphene textile fibers.”

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In related news, researchers, by manipulating the electromechanical properties of nanofibers, so that they stretch some seven times their natural length, have created a graphene-based material that is stronger and tougher than Kevlar.

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