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Smart Cloth for Cutting-Edge Tailors

By David Adams

Science-fiction 'smart' clothes are not far from reality following the development of a new yarn made from sub-microscopic fibres.


 

 

 

Clothing that can report the location of an injured miner or automatically contract around a soldier's wound to prevent blood loss may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but it is not far from reality following the development of a new yarn made from sub-microscopic fibres.

In a breakthrough in the development of ‘smart' clothing, scientists at CSIRO Textile and Fibre Technology in Geelong and at the University of Texas NanoTech Institute have used Australian wool and cotton spinning know-how to produce a new yarn made solely from carbon nanotubes. These tiny high-tech fibres can be woven into strong, lightweight yarn with some extraordinary properties.

The hollow fibres measure about a millionth of a centimetre in diameter, and are ‘grown' at high temperatures in laboratories.

Ken Atkinson, project leader in textile research and development at CSIRO, says the nanotubes imbue the resultant yarn with properties including electrical conductivity, high strength and a high breaking strain.

They can also withstand extreme temperatures while retaining their strength and flexibility.

It is a case of technology boosting the competitiveness of a traditional industry by effectively creating a new product.

Researchers say the conductivity and flexibility mean carbon nanotube fibres could act as antennas when woven into fabrics, allowing, for example, wearers to be continuously tracked via a GPS system.

Potential military applications include bullet-proof vests, and material incorporating sensors which would be ‘aware' when a soldier was wounded and act as electrically driven muscles, contracting around a wound to prevent further blood loss.

Dr Ray Baughman, the director of the University of Texas NanoTech Institute, says the twist-based nanotube spinning technology would not have originated without the game-changing insights of CSIRO's Mr Atkinson and Mei Zhang at the University of Texas.

Dr Baughman says the carbon nanotube yarns are 'truly exciting' and with some achievable modifications, the nanotube spinning process seems suitable for high-value commercial products.

'These might eventually range from artificial muscles, electronic textiles, antiballistic clothing, and satellite tethers to filaments for high-intensity X-ray and light sources, and yarns for energy storage and generation that are weaveable into textiles.'

Staff at CSIRO Textile and Fibre Technology are now working on producing the nanotubes in greater quantities. Mr Atkinson says: 'If you've ever seen a textile plant, you'll know that milligrams and grams aren't much use to you – you need kilograms and tonnes. So we've been trying to develop a process to produce much larger quantities of nanotubes.'

For further information contact:
CSIRO Enquiries
Email: Solve@csiro.au      Web: www.csiro.au
Freecall: 1300 363 400       International: +61 3 9545 2176


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