Spandex, or Lycra, fibres under an optical microscope

Smart textile from Lycra and carbon nanotubes more ‘powerful’ than human muscles

Image credit: Photon 400 750

An innovative smart material consisting of carbon nanotubes and Lycra fibres can act as a sensor and also initiate movement in response to a stimulus.

The material, developed by a team from the University of Wollongong, Australia, and the University of Texas in Dallas, USA, has been described as the first of its kind by the researchers.

“Our recent work allowed us to develop smart clothing that simultaneously monitors the wearer’s movements, senses strain and adjusts the garment to support or correct the movement,” explained Javad Foroughi, the project’s lead researcher who works at the Wollongong University’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES).

“We have already made intelligent materials as sensors and integrated them into devices such as a knee sleeve that can be used to monitor the movement of the joint, providing valuable data that can be used to create a personalised training or rehabilitation program for the wearer,” Foroughi continued, comparing the new material with the team’s previous achievements which covered only the sensing functionality.

The researchers said the new material, which could be easily manufactured on an industrial scale, has a mechanical work capacity and power output exceeding that of human muscles.

The team envisions the technology could be used in robotics or to make sensors for lab-on-chip devices.

“Materials that can provide both sensing and response capabilities are the holy grail of intelligent materials research,” said ACES Director Professor Gordon Wallace. “This fundamental discovery will find widespread application.”

The new textile has been described in the latest issue of the ACS Nano journal published by the American Chemical Society.

“Working with world-class scientists Professor Geoff Spinks and United States collaborator Professor Ray Baughman made it possible to create the first generation 3D carbon nanotube knitted smart textile,” said Foroughi who developed the material as part of a three-year research project focused on development of a new class of smart textiles.

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