The “Wonder Material” that’ll turn your coat into a display

A display flashing up on your sleeve? It’s possible! Scientists have come up with a method to use the versatile material graphene in ‘smart textiles’ that can emit light, measure heartbeats and regulate warmth.

In 10 seconds? Scientists have developed a technique to bring Back-to-the-Future-style clothes a step closer and… to surpass them! Using fine electronic fibres, they are about to revolutionise wearable tech by enabling fabric to display images and more. (Read the science)

Wow! How does this work? Researchers have created electricity-conducting fibre which — when woven into a fabric — can double up as parts of wearable tech. This is a revolutionary step as current devices are merely attached to clothing. What makes all this possible is the new wonder material in town, graphene. (Read the paper)

What’s the big deal with graphene? It’s one of the allotropes, or molecular forms of carbon, like diamond and graphite. As just a one atom thick layer of carbon atoms organised in hexagons, it is the thinnest material capable of conducting heat and electricity. On top of that, it’s flexible and super-strong: 200 times more than steel. (More on graphene)

So how does it translate into smart clothes? Well, its flexibility, strength and conductivity make it possible to combine it with fibre and turn clothes into touch-sensitive, light-emitting devices, capable of displaying images. This is achieved by coating polypropylene fibres — a material from the clothing industry — with graphene-based electronics fibres. Seasonal idea: how about an ordinary jumper turning into a colourful flashing Christmas jumper during the holidays? (More on coating fibres with graphene)

Okay, but on a serious note, what could such smart textiles be used for? Where do I start? For example, these fabrics could track heart rates and blood pressure, and be used in medical diagnostics. The French national ski team is already wearing graphene-containing jackets, where the fabric creates an ideal temperature for the racer. The material is also toxic for bacteria, so could be the ideal add-on to maternity clothes. (Read more)

Sounds like you can’t fault graphene… Are there any drawbacks?Well, there are, but they pale in comparison with its benefits. Currently, graphene is still difficult and expensive to produce. And more research is needed to exclude any toxic effects on humans. But as it could find an application in almost every industrial sector, expect it to pop up in more and more products. (More on scalable graphene production)

Even a thin sheet can hold an elephant
Graphene was discovered in 2004 by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov who later won the Nobel Prize for their superlative method of isolating it.
Scientifically, a thin sheet of graphene can carry an elephant of 10,000 pounds due to the combined effect of being able to resist mechanical stretching and breaking.
In addition, graphene has remarkable thermal properties: it can conduct heat easily and can withstand high temperatures.
Scientists have already considered graphene as a candidate for solar cells and it can also dramatically extend the lifespan of traditional lithium-ion batteries.

Research curated by
Olukunle Olawole

PhD student at Covenant University, Nigeria, researching solar energy and condensed matter physics

(Psst, Olukunde distilled 22 research papers to save you 986.5 min)

Originally published at