Intelligent clothing, which is capable of conducting electricity, may soon assist in monitoring health, researchers said.
Engineers at the University of Michigan have shown that a carbon nanotube-coated 'smart yarn', which conducts electricity, could be woven into soft fabrics that detect blood and monitor health.
"Currently, smart textiles are made primarily of metallic or optical fibers. They're fragile. They're not comfortable. Metal fibers also corrode. There are problems with washing such electronic textiles. We have found a much simpler way an elegant way by combining two fibers, one natural and one created by nanotechnology," said Nicholas Kotov, a professor in the departments of Chemical Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering and Biomedical Engineering.
To create these "e-textiles," the researchers dipped 1.5-millimeter thick cotton yarn into a solution of carbon nanotubes in water and then into a solution of a special sticky polymer in ethanol.
After being dipped just a few times into both solutions and dried, the yarn was able to conduct enough power from a battery to illuminate a light-emitting diode device.
"This turns out to be very easy to do. After just a few repetitions of the process, this normal cotton becomes a conductive material because carbon nanotubes are conductive," Kotov said.
The only perceptible change to the yarn is that it turned black, due to the carbon. It remained pliable and soft.
In order to put this conductivity to use, the researchers added the antibody anti-albumin to the carbon nanotube solution. Anti-albumin reacts with albumin, a protein found in blood.
When the researchers exposed their anti-albumin-infused smart yarn to albumin, they found that the conductivity significantly increased. Their new material is more sensitive and selective as well as more simple and durable than other electronic textiles.
The researchers said that the smart clothing that can detect blood could be useful in high-risk professions.
"The concept of electrically sensitive clothing made of carbon-nanotube-coated cotton is flexible in implementations and can be adapted for a variety of health monitoring tasks as well as high performance garments," Kotov said.
The smart clothing has been described online in Nano Letters.