Shining Threads Cast Light on Novel Futuristic Clothing Prospects

The days of using plain fibers to hold clothes and bags together are over. Researchers at Purdue University have introduced a remarkable electroluminescent thread, detailed in a paper published in Science Advances on January 3rd. This thread emits blue, green, and yellow light and maintains its shape even when machine embroidered.

According to Chi Hwan Lee, the lead author and an associate professor at Purdue, this thread opens up possibilities to add smart features and sensors to clothing and wearables beyond what traditional fibers or LEDs can do.

Lee explains that their main goal is to integrate light-emitting elements into textiles without sacrificing flexibility and washability. This advancement expands the creative potential of light-emitting textiles and makes them more practical, especially for emergency signaling.

In the past, attempts to add light sources to clothing often weakened the fabric or required extreme conditions for success. But this new electroluminescent thread prototype can be easily stitched with standard embroidery machines and withstand at least 50 washing cycles.

Crucial to its success was making threads strong enough for embroidery, requiring high tensile strength and the right stretchiness to integrate seamlessly into fabrics.

The threads are made of a rigid nylon fiber core infused with copper or manganese for color, coated with silver nanowires for conductivity, and protected with a layer of Gorilla Glue to prevent water damage.

Lee stresses the importance of durability for making these innovative fabrics practical for everyday use. Tests showed the Gorilla Glue sealant extended the threads’ lifespan through wear and washing.

Beyond fabric, the team also used the thread in a collision sensor for football helmets, showing its potential in various applications like home decor, high-visibility clothing, and health monitoring.

However, a challenge still needs to be solved in shrinking the threads’ power supply, which currently relies on bulky power banks. Lee suggests exploring energy-harvesting techniques to solve this problem and make these innovative ideas a reality.

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