Cotton Transistors

Mastering a truly seamless integration of electronic functionality into fabrics remains a challenge up to this day. Most experiments and design concepts use hybrid solutions ranging form detachable, add-on wearable electronic functionality to semi integrated solutions where part of the electronic elements are fully integrated into the fabric of clothing while part of the function is detachable.

The ultimate goal would be to transform the fabric of our clothing to electrically active systems, performing various tasks that make sense of being a permanent part of our wardrobe.

A group of researchers from the United States, Italy and France work on technologies to transform plain old cotton fibers into transistors with the potential to weave sensors into fabrics for apparel or carpets. Sensors that can pick up our body activity, hazardous elements in the air or counting people walking over a carpet.

Electrically conductive threads are not new and can be used to create a electrical infrastructure throughout a garment, transferring electrical power or electrical signals. Adding transistor capabilities to threads enables more complex electronic functionality woven directly into the fabric structure.

To ‘electrify’ cotton fibers the team coats each fiber strand with gold nano-particles followed by a layer of conductive polymer such as PEDOT, resulting in a fiber about thousand times more conductive than natural cotton.

Interestingly, this treatment does not alter the mechanical properties of the cotton fiber though it seems the electrification makes the fibers somewhat stiffer while increasing the elasticity compared to untreated cotton fibers.

The process apparently is not more complex than the fiber dyeing process used to give various colors to natural cotton.

The team managed to fabricate two types of cotton transistors: an organic electrochemical transistor and an organic field-effect transistor – follow the source link below for more details.

Cotton Transistors represent a exiting development, the next step towards a seamless and full integration of more complex electronic functionality into the fabric of our life clothing.

[source: IEEE Spectrum]

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