New Wearable Material Could Serve as Early Warning System for Injury or Illness

A novel material developed by scientists at the University of Houston is flexible enough to be woven into the fabric but embedded with sensing abilities that could act as an early warning system for illness or injury.

Researchers have reported a new material, pliable enough to be woven into fabric but imbued with sensing capabilities that could serve as an early warning system for injury or illness. Image Credit: University of Houston.

A study describing this material was recently published in ACS Applied Nano Materials journal. The material is developed from carbon nanotubes and exhibits the ability to sense even slight variations in the body temperature while retaining a flexible disordered structure—when compared to a stiff crystalline structure. This feature makes it a good candidate for wearable human body temperature sensors that are disposable or reusable.

The variations in body heat cause changes to the electrical resistance, thus alerting someone who monitors that change to the potential requirement for intervention.

Your body can tell you something is wrong before it becomes obvious.

Seamus Curran, Study Co-Author and Physics Professor, University of Houston

The potential applications of the material are the detection of the dehydration level in an ultra-marathoner, monitoring the start of a pressure sore in a nursing home patient, and many more.

In addition, the scientists stated that it is affordable since the raw materials needed are used in comparatively low concentrations.

The study is based on the work of Curran and his fellow researchers Kang-Shyang Liao and Alexander J. Wang that started nearly 10 years ago and involved the creation of a hydrophobic nanocoating for cloth, visualized as a protective coating for carpeting, clothing, and other fiber-based materials.

Wang, now a Ph.D. student at Technological University Dublin, is currently working with Curran at UH. He is also the corresponding author of the study.

Apart from Curran and Liao, other scientists involved are Surendra Maharjan, Brian P. McElhenny, Ram Neupane, Zhuan Zhu, Shuo Chen, Oomman K. Varghese, and Jiming Bao, all from UH; Kourtney D. Wright and Andrew R. Barron from Rice University; and Eoghan P. Dillon from Analysis Instruments in Santa Barbara.

The material has been developed using poly (octadecyl acrylate)-grafted multi-walled carbon nanotubes and is technically termed a nanocarbon-based disordered, conductive, polymeric nanocomposite (DCPN).

DCPN is a class of materials widely utilized in the field of materials science. Since the majority of the DCPN materials are poor conductors of electricity, they are not suitable for use in wearable technologies that demand the material to detect even slight temperature changes.

According to Wang, the novel material was synthesized using a method known as RAFT-polymerization. This process is a crucial step that enables the attached polymer to be phononically and electronically coupled with the multi-walled carbon nanotube via covalent bonding.

Thus, slight structural arrangements related to the glass transition temperature of the system are amplified electronically to generate the extremely large electronic responses described in the study, without the disadvantages caused by solid-liquid phase transitions.

The slight structural variations caused by glass transition processes are generally too small to generate adequately large electronic responses.


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