Carbon nanotube fibre in clothing monitors heart

02 September 2021 | Muriel Cozier

‘We see that after two decades of development in labs worldwide, this material works in more and more applications…’

Researchers from Rice University, Houston, Texas, US, have created a flexible carbon nanotube fibre which when incorporated into athletic apparel, can monitor heart rate and take a continual electrocardiogram of the wearer.  The research has been published in the American Chemical Society journal Nano Letters.

The researchers noted that the nanotube fibres were both soft and flexible and as conductive as metal wires. In addition the clothing was machine washable.  Overall the shirt incorporating the fibres was better at gathering data than the standard chest strap monitor. With the nanotube filaments being too fine, at 22 microns wide, for a sewing machine, the researchers employed the skills of a rope maker to create a sewable thread.

Lauren Taylor, lead author of the study and Rice University graduate student said that there were potentially a number of areas for using the carbon nanotube fibres, including ballistic protection in military uniforms. ‘We demonstrated with a collaborator, a few years ago, that carbon nanotube fibres are better at dissipating energy on a per-weight basis than Kevlar, and that was without some of the gains we’ve since had in tensile strength,’ Taylor said.

The laboratory of Matteo Pasquali, AJ Hartsook Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Professor Chemistry and Material Science and Nanoengineering at Rice University, and co-author of the paper, introduced the carbon nanotube fibre in 2013. Since that time the fibres have been studied for several uses including bridges to repair damaged hearts, cochlear implants, and as flexible antennas for automotive and aerospace applications.  Development of carbon nanotubes is also part of the Rice University-based Carbon Hub, a multi-university research initiative launched in 2019.  

Professor Pasquali said: ‘We see that after two decades of development in labs worldwide, this material works in more and more applications. Because of the combination of conductivity, good contact with the skin, biocompatibility and softness, carbon nanotube threads are a natural component for wearables,’  Pasquali added that the wearable market, although relatively small, could be an entry point for a new generation of sustainable materials that could be derived from hydrocarbons via direct splitting, a process that also produces clean hydrogen.

DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.1c01039

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