A Look at Graphene-Polymer Composite Medical Implants


This article is based around a talk given by Professor Alexander Seifalian from NanoRegMed Ltd, UK, at the NANOMED conference hosted by the NANOSMAT Society in Manchester on the 26-28th June 2018. In his talk, Alexander talks about how his company is developing a series of medical implants that are made from a biocompatible graphene-polymer composite.

Written and Contributed by: Liam Critchley

Link to Original AZ Nano Article

Regenerative medicine and tissue engineering have been around for a while now, but these fields continue to advance and are now utilizing many different types of nanomaterials. Alexander has created a wide range of prostheses, including a trachea, grafts for heart bypasses, tear ducts, ears, and noses using various materials; including graphene. There has been a need for many years to create grafts which have smaller diameters, are less prone to blockages and can be used in a human patient without it being rejected by the body.

Life Science / Shutterstock

Most of the biomaterials used in various prostheses have been around for many decades and still encounter problems. So, Alexander and his company have come up with a new range of materials involving graphene for these prosthesis applications.

There are not many areas of medical research where graphene is used, because graphene by itself can be toxic to humans if internalized. But this can be avoided by compositing graphene with other materials. Aside from its strength, graphene’s lightweight nature, antimicrobial properties, flexibility and corrosion resistance make it an ideal material for medical implants when it is formulated into biocompatible materials.

The materials developed by Alexander are a composite of polycaprolactone (PCL), and graphene and the materials can be tuned to be either biodegradable or non-biodegradable depending on the intended application. To make the material, they graft the graphene and then conjugate it to the polymers so that it sits within the polymer matrix, thus preventing it from being harmful to a patient. A critical aspect of why the materials work is because they integrate with the surrounding tissue and cells.

The fabricated materials are very strong, and it requires 80 kilos of force to break the composite. This high strength property can also be further improved, but it is at the expense of the viscoelasticity of the material, which is required for many implant applications. It is also possible to create polycarbonate-graphene composites using this method, but a higher concentration of graphene is required, and this again affects the viscoelastic properties of the composite. It is also possible to 3D print these composite materials into variously shaped scaffolds loaded with stem cells.

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Alexander has created many grafts with these materials, and they have been tested on mouse models. These grafts have been shown to grow cells, and the proliferated cells directly integrate with the tissue of interest to help with the growth of new tissue. This type of graft can also be loaded with nitrous oxide (sometimes alongside other kinds of particles or biological matter) and has excellent potential for wound healing applications.

Billion Photos / Shutterstock

Alexander has also created artificial arteries using these polymer-graphene composites. It was also possible to conjugated antibodies (made from peptides) inside the artery, which also becomes endothelialized under shear flow. The tunable nature of the composites has enabled Alexander to fabricate these pseudo-arteries with the same viscoelastic properties as natural arteries.

Because medical devices can take a while to become commercialized, all the products created from these composites are not at the commercial level just yet. However, they show a lot of promise and many have gone to clinical trials, with success. One of the key aspects that make this composite an exciting material is its tunability. The ratios can be altered such that it is flexible enough to be used as an artery, or it can be made more rigid for external prostheses, such as the nose. This, coupled with the fact that the materials are biocompatible, make it an interesting area to keep an eye on in the near future.

Sources:

• NANOMED 2018: http://www.nanomed.uk.com/

• NanoRegMed: http://www.nanoregmed.com/

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Using PEG Nanotubes as Drug Delivery Systems


This article is based around a talk given by Ben Newland from Cardiff University, UK, at the NANOMED conference hosted by the NANOSMAT Society in Manchester on the 26-28th June 2018. In his talk, Ben talks about how he uses soft and flexible poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) nanotubes to provide a sustained and localized delivery of therapeutic drugs.

Link to Original AZ Nano Article

Dr. Newland, a lecturer at Cardiff University, has been dealing with PEG nanotubes for approximately ten years after they came about as a side project to his other research. It should be noted that these nanotubes are not like carbon nanotubes, in that they are not electronically confined in 2 dimensions (i.e., a 1D material), nor are they carbon nanotubes functionalized with PEG at the surface. They are strictly hollow cylinders that are made entirely of PEG, and only bear the name nanotube because that is what they most closely resemble (without the capped end).

The research came about after previously working on carbon nanopipes, where a porous template was used to create hollow carbon nanostructures; in conjunction with another area of Ben’s research, which looks at using cyclized knotted polymers as drug delivery agents. To combine these areas, Ben poured a polymer solution (with a photo-initiator) into a porous template and shone UV light on it, which in turn cross-linked the polymers and created tube-like structures. This was the starting point of this research.

Since starting the research, Ben has incrementally polished the process and now produces polymer nanotubes which are 200 nm in diameter and up to 60 micrometers in length. Cyclized knot polymers are required to construct these nanotubes and can be made with commercially available PEG materials that contain di-vinyl groups. Different polymers have been trialed, and the PEG nanotubes were found to be the softest.

The possibility of using these for drug delivery applications came about after they were found to uptake rhodamine (a tracer dye). On the process side, Ben’s research team discovered that when the templates are dissolved (with sodium hydroxide) to leave just the nanotubes, the process breaks some of the ester bonds and creates an abundance of negative charges on the surface of the nanotubes.

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The anti-cancer drug, doxorubicin, was also found to be actively uptaken out of solution by the negatively charged nanotubes, and it is a straightforward procedure to determine the uptake and release of doxorubicin as it is intrinsically fluorescent and has a colored appearance. Ben’s work has led him to look at the release of doxorubicin from the nanotubes and found that they release most of the drug payload within the first five days, but there is a sustained delivery of 2-3 micrograms over 35 to 40 days. Some of the doxorubicin was found to stay in the nanotube, so while it is not perfect at the moment regarding the release, these nanotubes do show a lot of promise as new material as drug delivery agents.

One aspect of any delivery agent is that it needs to be biocompatible and low in cytotoxicity. In-vitro cell viability tests have been performed for these nanotubes at varying concentrations, and up to the point where the nanotubes are completely covering the cell. The results showed that even at the end (fully covered cells) the nanotubes did not kill the cell. Other cell viability studies on drug-loaded nanotubes found that the release of the drugs was killing the cells, and thus confirmed its position as a potential drug delivery agent.

The research has been taken further and has been tested on metastatic breast cancer cells in mice in conjunction with researchers from the University of Strathclyde. These studies have shown that the doxorubicin-loaded nanotubes reduced the tumor growth and reduced metastasis (the creation of secondary tumors away from the primary tumor site) in the mice.

Future studies will look at the cytotoxicity of the polymer nanotubes in-vivo and will look at how the drug release profile can be improved. Other areas will look at varying the size of the nanotubes, changing the chain length to alter the stiffness and entanglement of the nanotubes and looking at the effects of functionalizing the nanotubes with different nanoparticles.

Sources:

• NANOMED 2018: http://www.nanomed.uk.com/

• Ben Newland: http://www.newlandresearch.net/

Environmentally friendly photoluminescent nanoparticles for more vivid display colors


IMAGE: THESE ARE STRUCTURES OF SILVER INDIUM SULFIDE/GALLIUM SULFIDE CORE/SHELL QUANTUM DOTS AND PICTURES OF THE CORE/SHELL QUANTUM DOTS UNDER ROOM LIGHT. view more 

CREDIT: OSAKA UNIVERSITY

Osaka, Japan – Most current displays do not always accurately represent the world’s colors as we perceive them by eye, instead only representing roughly 70% of them. To make better displays with true colors commonly available, researchers have focused their efforts on light-emitting nanoparticles.

Such nanoparticles can also be used in medical research to light up and keep track of drugs when developing and testing new medicines in the body. However, the metal these light-emitting nanoparticles are based on, namely cadmium, is highly toxic, which limits its applications in medical research and in consumer products–many countries may soon introduce bans on toxic nanoparticles.

It is therefore vital to create non-toxic versions of these nanoparticles that have similar properties: they must produce very clean colors and must do so in a very energy-efficient way. So far researchers have succeeded in creating non-toxic nanoparticles that emit light in an efficient manner by creating semiconductors with three types of elements in them, for example, silver, indium, and sulfur (in the form of silver indium disulfide (AgInS2)). However, the colors they emit are not pure enough–and many researchers declared that it would be impossible for such nanoparticles to ever emit pure colors.

Now, researchers from Osaka University have proven that it is possible by fabricating semiconductor nanoparticles containing silver indium disulfide and adding a shell around them consisting of a semiconductor material made of two different elements, gallium and sulfur. The team was able to reproducibly create these shell-covered nanoparticles that are both energy efficient and emit vivid, clean colors. The team have recently published their research in the Nature journal NPG Asia Materials.

“We synthesized non-toxic nanoparticles in the normal way: mix all ingredients together and heat them up. The results were not fantastic, but by tweaking the synthesis conditions and modifying the nanoparticle cores and the shells we enclosed them in, we were able to achieve fantastic efficiencies and very pure colors,” study coauthor Susumu Kuwabata says.

Enclosing nanoparticles in semiconductor shells in nothing new, but the shells that are currently used have rigidly arranged atoms inside them, whereas the new particles are made of a more chaotic material without such a rigid structure.

“The silver indium disulfide particles emitted purer colors after the coating with gallium sulfide. On top of that, the shell parts in microscopic images were totally amorphous. We think the less rigid nature of the shell material played an important part in that–it was more adaptable and therefore able to take on more energetically favorable conformations,” first author Taro Uematsu says.

The team’s results demonstrate that it is possible to create cadmium-free, non-toxic nanoparticles with very good color-emitting properties by using amorphous shells around the nanoparticle cores.

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The article, “Narrow band-edge photoluminescence from AgInS2 semiconductor nanoparticles by the formation of amorphous III-VI semiconductor shells” was published in NPG Asia Materials, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41427-018-0067-9.

Rice University: Nanotubes change the shape of water


nanotubeschange water Rice UMolecular models of nanotube ice produced by engineers at Rice University show how forces inside a carbon nanotube at left and a boron nitride nanotube at right pressure water molecules into taking on the shape of a square tube. The …more

First, according to Rice University engineers, get a nanotube hole. Then insert water. If the nanotube is just the right width, the water molecules will align into a square rod.

Rice materials scientist Rouzbeh Shahsavari and his team used molecular models to demonstrate their theory that weak van der Waals forces between the inner surface of the nanotube and the  are strong enough to snap the oxygen and hydrogen atoms into place.

Shahsavari referred to the contents as two-dimensional “ice,” because the  freeze regardless of the temperature. He said the research provides valuable insight on ways to leverage atomic interactions between nanotubes and  molecules to fabricate nanochannels and energy-storing nanocapacitors.

A paper on the research appears in the American Chemical Society journal Langmuir.

Shahsavari and his colleagues built molecular models of carbon and  with adjustable widths. They discovered boron nitride is best at constraining the shape of water when the nanotubes are 10.5 angstroms wide. (One angstrom is one hundred-millionth of a centimeter.)

The researchers already knew that  in tightly confined water take on interesting structural properties. Recent experiments by other labs showed strong evidence for the formation of nanotube ice and prompted the researchers to build density functional theory models to analyze the forces responsible.

Shahsavari’s team modeled water molecules, which are about 3 angstroms wide, inside carbon and boron nitride nanotubes of various chiralities (the angles of their atomic lattices) and between 8 and 12 angstroms in diameter. They discovered that nanotubes in the middle diameters had the most impact on the balance between molecular interactions and van der Waals pressure that prompted the transition from a square water tube to ice.

“If the nanotube is too small and you can only fit one water molecule, you can’t judge much,” Shahsavari said. “If it’s too large, the water keeps its amorphous shape. But at about 8 angstroms, the nanotubes’ van der Waals force starts to push water molecules into organized square shapes.”

He said the strongest interactions were found in boron nitride  due to the particular polarization of their atoms.

Shahsavari said nanotube ice could find use in molecular machines or as nanoscale capillaries, or foster ways to deliver a few molecules of water or sequestered drugs to targeted cells, like a nanoscale syringe.

 Explore further: Scientists say boron nitride-graphene hybrid may be right for next-gen green cars

More information: Farzaneh Shayeganfar et al, First Principles Study of Water Nanotubes Captured Inside Carbon/Boron Nitride Nanotubes, Langmuir (2018). DOI: 10.1021/acs.langmuir.8b00856

A*STAR team uses graphene oxide to create a cathode for improved li-ion batteries


A*STAR researchers have found that incorporating organic materials into lithium ion batteries could lower their cost and make them more environmentally friendly. The team has developed an organic-based battery cathode that has significantly improved electrochemical performance compared to previous organic cathode materials. The new material is also robust, remaining stable over thousands of battery charge/discharge cycles.

An electron-deficient, rigid organic molecule called hexaazatrinaphthalene (HATN) was previously investigated as an organic cathode material for lithium ion batteries. However, its promising initial performance declined rapidly during use, because the molecule began to dissolve into the battery’s liquid electrolyte. A new cathode material, in which HATN was combined with graphene oxide in an attempt to prevent the organic material from dissolving, has now been developed by Yugen Zhang and his colleagues from the A*STAR Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology.

“Graphene oxide has excellent electronic conductivity, and surface oxygen functionality that may form hydrogen-bonding interactions with HATN,” Zhang says. He explains that this made graphene oxide a promising candidate for forming a HATN-graphene oxide nanocomposite.

The nanocomposite’s performance reportedly exceeded expectations. The materials combined to form core-shell nanorods in which the HATN was coated with graphene oxide. “Graphene oxide and HATN formed a very nice composite structure, which solved the dissolution issue of HATN in electrolyte and gave the cathode very good cycling stability,” Zhang says. A lithium ion battery using this material as its cathode retained 80% of its capacity after 2000 charge/discharge cycles.

The team saw even better performance when they combined graphene oxide with a HATN derivate called hexaazatrinaphthalene tricarboxylic acid (HATNTA). A battery made from this material retained 86% of its capacity after 2,000 charge/discharge cycles. The improved performance is probably due to the polar carboxylic acid groups on the HATNTA molecule, which attached the molecule even more strongly to the graphene oxide.

The team is continuing to develop new materials to improve the performance of organic cathodes, Zhang says. Aside from investigating alternatives to graphene oxide, the team also is working on HATN-based porous polymers for use as organic cathode materials, which should enhance the flow of ions during battery charge and discharge.

This graphene battery can recharge itself to provide unlimited clean energy


Scientists are exploring graphene’s ability to ‘ripple’ into the third dimension.

Image: REUTERS/Nick Carey

Graphene is a modern marvel. It is comprised of a single, two-dimensional layer of carbon, yet is 200 times stronger than steel and more conductive than any other material, according to the University of Manchester, where it was first isolated in 2004.

Graphene also has multiple potential uses, including in biomedical applications such as targeted drug delivery, and for improving the lifespan of smartphone batteries.

Now, a team of researchers at the University of Arkansas has found evidence to suggest graphene could also be used to provide an unlimited supply of clean energy.

The team says its research is based on graphene’s ability to “ripple” into the third dimension, similar to waves moving across the surface of the ocean. This motion, the researchers say, can be harvested into energy.

To study the movement of graphene, lead researcher Paul Thibado and his team laid sheets of the material across a copper grid that acted as a scaffold, which allowed the graphene to move freely.

Thibado says graphene could power biomedical devices such as pacemakers.

Image: Russell Cothren

The researchers used a scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) to observe the movements, finding that narrowing the focus to study individual ripples drew clearer results.

In analysing the data, Thibado observed both small, random fluctuations, known as Brownian motion, and larger, coordinated movements.

A scanning tunnelling microscope.

Image: University of Arkansas

As the atoms on a sheet of graphene vibrate in response to the ambient temperature, these movements invert their curvature, which creates energy, the researchers say.

Harvesting energy

“This is the key to using the motion of 2D materials as a source of harvestable energy,” Thibado says.

“Unlike atoms in a liquid, which move in random directions, atoms connected in a sheet of graphene move together. This means their energy can be collected using existing nanotechnology.”

The pieces of graphene in Thibado’s laboratory measure about 10 microns across (more than 20,000 could fit on the head of a pin). Each fluctuation exhibited by an individual ripple measures only 10 nanometres by 10 nanometres, and could produce 10 picowatts of power, the researchers say.

As a result, each micro-sized membrane has the potential to produce enough energy to power a wristwatch, and would never wear out or need charging.

Sheet of graphene as seen through Thibado’s STM

Image: University of Arkansas

Thibado has created a device, called the Vibration Energy Harvester, that he claims is capable of turning this harvested energy into electricity, as the below video illustrates.

This self-charging power source also has the potential to convert everyday objects into smart devices, as well as powering more sophisticated biomedical devices such as pacemakers, hearing aids and wearable sensors.

Thibado says: “Self-powering enables smart bio-implants, which would profoundly impact society.”

Have you read?

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New super-battery that doesn’t catch fire described as a ‘paradigm shift’


The latest rechargeable battery technology could drastically improve the capabilities of mobile phones and electric vehicles.

It seems that nearly every household electronic item these days requires a lithium-ion rechargeable battery, from a vacuum cleaner to a pair of headphones.

This results in many of us having a multitude of different devices hooked up to various chargers at any given time, which isn’t exactly ideal.

Now, however, a team of scientists from the University of Michigan is heralding a major breakthrough that could drastically increase the power of rechargeable batteries, with the added bonus of not catching on fire.

Existing rechargeable batteries are made from lithium-ion, a technology that enables a quick charge but has the massive drawback of its exposure to open air causing it to explode and catch fire. It also requires regular charging and can degrade quickly due to overcharging.

But, in a paper soon to be published to the Journal of Power Sources, the research team describe how by using a ceramic, solid-state electrolyte, it was able to harness the power of lithium-metal batteries without any of the traditional negatives of lithium-ion.

In doing so, it could double the output of batteries, meaning a phone could run for days or weeks without charging, or an electric vehicle (EV) could rival fossil fuel-powered cars in range.

Jeff Sakamoto, leader of the research team, said: “This could be a game-changer, a paradigm shift in how a battery operates.”

In the 1980s, lithium-metal batteries were seen as the future, but their tendency to combust during charging led researchers to switch to lithium-ion.

10 times the charging speed

These batteries replaced lithium metal with graphite anodes, which absorb the lithium and prevent tree-like filaments called dendrites from forming, but also come with performance costs.

For example, graphite has a maximum capacity of 350 milliampere hours per gram (mAh/g), whereas lithium metal in a solid-state battery has a specific capacity of 3,800 mAh/g.

To get around the ever so problematic exploding problem in lithium-metal batteries, the team created a ceramic layer that stabilises the surface, keeping dendrites from forming and preventing fires.

With some tweaking, chemical and mechanical treatments of the ceramic provided a pristine surface for lithium to plate evenly.

Whereas once it would take a lithium-metal EV up to 50 hours to charge, the team said it could now do it in three hours or less.

“We’re talking a factor of 10 increase in charging speed compared to previous reports for solid-state lithium-metal batteries,” Sakamoto said.

“We’re now on par with lithium-ion cells in terms of charging rates, but with additional benefits.”

Why Nobody Wins When You’re A Disruptive Business — The Multiplier Mindset Blog


There’s a narrative we’ve come to accept as a fact of our technological age, and it’s this idea that every industry in the world is destined to be disrupted. People are doomed to lose their jobs, companies are doomed to go bankrupt, and everything we own, buy, or learn is doomed to become obsolete. And…

via Why Nobody Wins When You’re A Disruptive Business — The Multiplier Mindset Blog

Our Environment: An Underwater Irish Canyon Is Sucking CO2 Out of the Atmosphere (We heard the Irish were good at “drinking” but … )


Porcupine_Bank_and_Seabight,_NE_Atlantic

Northeast Atlantic bathymetry, with Porcupine Bank and the Porcupine Seabight labelled.

A research expedition to a huge underwater canyon off the Irish coast has shed light on a hidden process that sucks the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere.

Researchers led by a team from the University College Cork (UCC) took an underwater research drone by boat out to Porcupine Bank Canyon — a massive, cliff-walled underwater trench where Ireland’s continental shelf ends — to build a detailed map of its boundaries and interior. Along the way, the researchers reported in a statement, they noted a process at the edge of the canyon that pulls CO2 from the atmosphere and buries it deep under the sea.

ColdWaterCoral_largeAll around the rim of the canyon live cold-water corals, which thrive on dead plankton raining down from the ocean surface. Those tiny, surface-dwelling plankton build their bodies out of carbon extracted from CO2 in the air. Then, when they die, the coral on the seafloor consume them and build their bodies out of the same carbon. Over time, as the coral die and the cliff faces shift and crumble, which sends the coral   falling deep into the canyon. There, the carbon pretty much stays put for long periods. [ In Photos: ROV Explores Deep-Sea Marianas Trench

There’s evidence that a lot of carbon is moving this way; the researchers said they found “significant” dead coral buildup at the canyon bottom.

This process doesn’t move nearly enough carbon dioxide to prevent climate change, the researchers said. But it does shed light on yet another mechanism that keeps the planet’s CO2 levels regulated when human industry doesn’t interfere.

“Increasing CO2 concentrations in our atmosphere are causing our extreme weather,” Andy Wheeler, a UCC geoscientist and one of the researchers on the expedition, said in the statement. “Oceans absorb this CO2 and canyons are a rapid route for pumping it into the deep ocean where it is safely stored away.”

The mapping expedition covered an area about the size of Chicago and revealed places where the canyon has moved and shifted significantly in the past.

“We took cores with the ROV, and the sediments reveal that although the canyon is quiet now, periodically it is a violent place where the seabed gets ripped up and eroded,” Wheeler said.

The expedition will return to shore today (Aug. 10).

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Will underwater drones bring a sea change to naval – and nuclear – warfare? 

maratime-unmanned-500

 

MIT: Introducing the latest in textiles: Soft hardware


MIT-Fiber-Diodes-01_0For the first time, the researchers from MIT and AFFOA have produced fibers with embedded electronics that are so flexible they can be woven into soft fabrics and made into wearable clothing.: Courtesy of the researchers

Researchers incorporate optoelectronic diodes into fibers and weave them into washable fabrics.

The latest development in textiles and fibers is a kind of soft hardware that you can wear: cloth that has electronic devices built right into it.

Researchers at MIT have now embedded high speed optoelectronic semiconductor devices, including light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and diode photodetectors, within fibers that were then woven at Inman Mills, in South Carolina, into soft, washable fabrics and made into communication systems. This marks the achievement of a long-sought goal of creating “smart” fabrics by incorporating semiconductor devices — the key ingredient of modern electronics — which until now was the missing piece for making fabrics with sophisticated functionality.

This discovery, the researchers  say, could unleash a new “Moore’s Law” for fibers — in other words, a rapid progression in which the capabilities of fibers would grow rapidly and exponentially over time, just as the capabilities of microchips have grown over decades.

The findings are described this week in the journal Nature in a paper by former MIT graduate student Michael Rein; his research advisor Yoel Fink, MIT professor of materials science and electrical engineering and CEO of AFFOA (Advanced Functional Fabrics of America); along with a team from MIT, AFFOA, Inman Mills, EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland, and Lincoln Laboratory.

A spool of fine, soft fiber made using the new process shows the embedded LEDs turning on and off to demonstrate their functionality. The team has used similar fibers to transmit music to detector fibers, which work even when underwater. (Courtesy of the researchers)

Optical fibers have been traditionally produced by making a cylindrical object called a “preform,” which is essentially a scaled-up model of the fiber, then heating it. Softened material is then drawn or pulled downward under tension and the resulting fiber is collected on a spool.

The key breakthrough for producing  these new fibers was to add to the preform light-emitting semiconductor diodes the size of a grain of sand, and a pair of copper wires a fraction of a hair’s width. When heated in a furnace during the fiber-drawing process, the polymer preform partially liquified, forming a long fiber with the diodes lined up along its center and connected by the copper wires.

In this case, the solid components were two types of electrical diodes made using standard microchip technology: light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and photosensing diodes. “Both the devices and the wires maintain their dimensions while everything shrinks around them” in the drawing process, Rein says. The resulting fibers were then woven into fabrics, which were laundered 10 times to demonstrate their practicality as possible material for clothing.

“This approach adds a new insight into the process of making fibers,” says Rein, who was the paper’s lead author and developed the concept that led to the new process. “Instead of drawing the material all together in a liquid state, we mixed in devices in particulate form, together with thin metal wires.”

One of the advantages of incorporating function into the fiber material itself is that the resulting  fiber is inherently waterproof. To demonstrate this, the team placed some of the photodetecting fibers inside a fish tank. A lamp outside the aquarium transmitted music (appropriately, Handel’s “Water Music”) through the water to the fibers in the form of rapid optical signals. The fibers in the tank converted the light pulses — so rapid that the light appears steady to the naked eye — to electrical signals, which were then converted into music. The fibers survived in the water for weeks.

Though the principle sounds simple, making it work consistently, and making sure that the fibers could be manufactured reliably and in quantity, has been a long and difficult process. Staff at the Advanced Functional Fabric of America Institute, led by Jason Cox and Chia-Chun Chung, developed the pathways to increasing yield, throughput, and overall reliability, making these fibers ready for transitioning to industry. At the same time, Marty Ellis from Inman Mills developed techniques for weaving these fibers into fabrics using a conventional industrial manufacturing-scale loom.

“This paper describes a scalable path for incorporating semiconductor devices into fibers. We are anticipating the emergence of a ‘Moore’s law’ analog in fibers in the years ahead,” Fink says. “It is already allowing us to expand the fundamental capabilities of fabrics to encompass communications, lighting, physiological monitoring, and more. In the years ahead fabrics will deliver value-added services and will no longer just be selected for aesthetics and comfort.”

He says that the first commercial products incorporating this technology will be reaching the marketplace as early as next year — an extraordinarily short progression from laboratory research to commercialization. Such rapid lab-to-market development was a key part of the reason for creating an academic-industry-government collaborative such as AFFOA in the first place, he says. These initial applications will be specialized products involving communications and safety. “It’s going to be the first fabric communication system. We are right now in the process of transitioning the technology to domestic manufacturers and industry at an unprecendented speed and scale,” he says.

In addition to commercial applications, Fink says the U.S. Department of Defense — one of AFFOA’s major supporters — “is exploring applications of these ideas to our women and men in uniform.”

Beyond communications, the fibers could potentially have significant applications in the biomedical field, the researchers say. For example, devices using such fibers might be used to make a wristband that could measure pulse or blood oxygen levels, or be woven into a bandage to continuously monitor the healing  process.

The research was supported in part by the MIT Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) through the MRSEC Program of the National Science Foundation, by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the U.S. Army Research Office through the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies. This work was also supported by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.