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Home > News > An electric yarn: Clothes that could report a wounded soldier

December 10th, 2008

An electric yarn: Clothes that could report a wounded soldier

Abstract:
MANY science-fiction stories portray a time when warring generals monitor their forces on computer displays that are linked to electronic suits worn by each of their soldiers. Information about any injuries is sent to the command station immediately, so the generals will know that, say, Sergeant Johnson has a fractured ankle or that Corporal Caley has lost 1.2 litres of blood. Such a day may not be too far off. Researchers have been able to produce cotton fibres capable of detecting blood and of signalling its presence electrically.

Intelligent textiles have a lot of appeal. For both soldiers and doctors clothing that adapts to changing conditions could provide adjustable levels of protection from such things as microbes, chemicals and radiation. Commercial manufacturers see huge potential in clothes that glow, do not wrinkle or overcome body odour. Materials can already be made to do some of these things, but they are too bulky, rigid or complicated for practical use. So the aim is to manufacture a light material that can be easily woven but that is also highly durable and, in order to transmit information, capable of electrical conductivity.

A team of researchers led by Nicholas Kotov, a chemical engineer at the University of Michigan, has come up with a way in which this might be done by coating cotton threads with carbon nanotubes. These tubes are cylindrical carbon molecules with a unique honeycomb-like arrangement of atoms. They are regarded as among the most versatile nanomaterials available because of their mechanical strength and electrical properties.

Source:
economist.com

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