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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > Bourne Research > Electronic Textiles and Smart Fabrics

Marlene

Abstract:
The apparel, footwear, fabric and textile industries continue to evolve thanks to the ever-expanding use of nanomaterials, nanostructures, MEMS sensors, conductive fibers and other innovative technologies and approaches. Here's a quick update.

October 15th, 2008

Electronic Textiles and Smart Fabrics

I've talked about the emergence of smart fabrics and electronic textiles in previous shows, but this is an area that continues to evolve in some really fascinating ways, so I thought it was time for a bit of an update; there's been some pretty cool news over the past few months.

Did you watch the track and field events during the Olympics this summer?

Did you know that during the trials one the Olympic hopefuls was wearing nanotechnology on his feet? Or maybe I should say - nanotechnology may have improved his performance? During the 400 meter race and other sprinting events, Jeremy Wariner wore a new track shoe from adidas, with spikes reinforced with carbon nanotubes. This made the metal spikes normally worn on these shoes (which gives the runners traction) and the plate on which the spikes are placed, both lighter and stronger.

It's said this new plate (and spikes) provides more stability and comfort, better torsion, improved safety, and increased flexibility, all which minimizes energy loss. That may seem slightly silly, but as we found during the swimming events, when it comes to the Olympics, thousands of a second (or perhaps in this case - nanoseconds) can really make a difference.

Speaking of spikes, that reminds me of a knife-proof fabric I mentioned last year. A similar fabric has been developed, which is a knit along the lines of a t-shirt. However, this material is made from a combination of ultra-high strength liquid crystal polymer and wool. Not only will it resist the puncture of a knife, but because of the wool, the fabric is flame resistant as well (a well-known property of wool). In fact, the polymer actually enhances this. So much so that the company who developed the textile apparently demonstrated this by applying a blowtorch to a vest made of the fabric - while it was being worn!

How many of you live in neighborhoods where stab, cut and fire-resistant clothes would come in handy?

Speaking of wool, that reminds me of some news I heard about earlier this year. Researchers at Victoria University in New Zealand discovered that adding nanoparticles of pure gold or silver to fine Marino wool results in a rainbow of unexpected colors. If you use gold, the wool ranges in color from maroon and dark red, to purple, blue and gray; whereas the use of silver results in bright yellows, greens and oranges.

The color you end up with depends on the type of metal (i.e. silver or gold), the size of the nanoparticles, and in some cases, even their shape. The amount used determines color intensity. And if you think about it, the use of silver has the added benefit of producing an anti-microbial effect. It's my understanding that high-end designers are very interested in the process.

Speaking of really tiny particles, DNA is pretty small, isn't it? I'm sure most of you are familiar with DNA as it pertains to crime scene investigation and finding criminals; but, what about protecting against counterfeiting? Counterfeiting within the apparel industry, whether it's clothes, shoes or purses, is a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Well, a company has come up with a new approach: using the DNA of botanicals (such as plants) and then encapsulating it into ink for use on clothing labels or the thread used to make fabric itself. That's very intriguing, I will say.

In this week's radio show we'll talk with Material Connexion and learn more about how technology is changing the textile industry. And along the same lines, in our news of the week: fabrics that eliminate pain, business suits that shield you from cell phone radiation, and electronic swimsuits!

You can listen to the entire show on bournereport.com or look for Bourne Report Radio in iTunes, Google and Newsgator.

This article is a transcript of the Bourne Report Podcast #114.

2008 Bourne Research LLC. All rights reserved.

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