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Cornell University Converts Fabric to Electronic Components

A group of students and the director of the Textiles Nanotechnology Laboratory at Cornell University, Juan Hinestroza, have found a way to convert fabric into an electronic component, instead of adding electronics to fibers.

According to an article in the university’s newspaper, the Cornell Chronicle, the students turned cotton fibers into transistors and thermistors.

“Creating transistors and other components using cotton fibers brings a new perspective to the seamless integration of electronics and textiles, enabling the creation of unique wearable electronic devices,” Hinestroza, an associate professor of fiber science, told the newspaper.

Hinestroza and his students have created clothing that kills bacteria, conducts electricity, repels malaria and captures harmful gas. They have even weaved transistors into shirts and dresses. The group added conformal coatings of gold nanoparticles, as well as semiconductive and conductive polymers to change the behavior of natural cotton fibers. The layers are so thin that the flexibility of the cotton fibers is always preserved.

One student, Abbey Liebman, created a dress using conductive cotton threads that, with the help of sun rays, can charge cell phones and other handheld devices. The garment, which is inspired by the Southwest, is equipped with ultrathin solar panels at the trim and a USB charger in its waist.

This technology can also be used to measure heart rate or analyze sweat when inserted into shirts or to monitor brain signals when sewn into pillows. It can even be applied to interactive textiles to offer heating and cooling capabilities.

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“Previous technologies have achieved similar functionalities, but those fibers became rigid or heavy, unlike our yarns, which are friendly to further processing, such as weaving, sewing and knitting,” Hinestroza told the Cornell Chronicle.

The chronicle says synthesizing nanoparticles and attaching them to cotton creates color on fiber surfaces without the use of dyes and helps the new surfaces kill 99.9% of bacteria to combat colds, flu and other diseases.

Two of Hinestroza’s students developed a hooded bodysuit, which uses metal organic framework molecules or MOFs to supply insecticides for repelling malarial mosquitoes.

According to Unicef, over one million people die each year in Africa from Malaria. Insecticide-treated nets are used in African homes, but the anti-malarial bodysuit can be worn throughout the day, offering extra protection that does not wear off like other repellants.

Another group of students used MOFs to create a mask and hood to trap toxic gases in a selective manner. MOFs are clustered crystalline compounds and can be manipulated at the nano level to construct nanoscale cages that are the same size as the gas they are trying to capture.

Hinestroza told the newspaper he wanted to use these molecules to absorb gases and incorporate them into fibers to make efficient filtration systems.

“We want to transform traditional natural fibers into true engineering materials that are multifunctional and that can be customized to any demand. We are chemists, we are material scientists, we are designers, we want to create materials that will perform many functions, yet remain as flexible and as comfortable as a t-shirt or an old pair of jeans,” he said.