Since 2013 IHMRI researcher Dr Javad Foroughi has been developing a new class of smart textile—one that not only senses movement from a muscle or joint, but can move in response.
This exciting development has been a long sought-after goal in the field of materials science and has the potential for use in a wide range of health and medical applications.
The breakthrough came three years into Dr Foroughi’s Discovery Early Career Research Award Fellowship from the Australian Research Council. His findings have been published in the high-ranking international journal, ACS Nano (2016, 10 (10), pp 9129–9135).
A Senior Research Fellow and Associate Investigator from UOW’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES), Dr Foroughi worked with an international team of experts to develop the smart textile, including UOW colleagues Distinguished Professor Gordon Wallace and Professor Spinks, plus Professor Ray Baughman from the University of Texas.
“Our recent work allowed us to develop smart clothing that simultaneously monitors the wearer’s movements, senses strain, and adjusts the garment to support or correct the movement,” explains Dr Foroughi.
The first generation 3D smart textile is made from multi-walled carbon nanotubes (CNT) and spandex fibres. The researchers use a circulating knitting machine which continuously feeds spandex fibres and CNT aerogel sheets drawn from an aligned forest of tubes to fabricate the yarn. The textile created from the yarn is very stretchy and capable of conducting electricity.
When a voltage is applied to the stretched yarn, it heats up and contracts by up to 33%. As a consequence, it generates a mechanical work capacity of up to 0.64 kJ/kg and a maximum specific power output of 1.28 kW/kg, which is much higher than that produced by skeletal muscles.
The easily fabricated knitted textile has been integrated into a knee sleeve. This device is currently being tested by researchers at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne.
“We have already demonstrated a knee sleeve prototype using our technology, and such a device might be used to help repair injury after an accident by monitoring and manipulating knee movement,” explains team member Professor Ray Baughman from the University of Texas.
The team is now working on using the CNT knitted textile as a wearable antenna, as well as in biomedical applications, like lymph sleeves. Dr Foroughi is currently working with researchers at The Wollongong Hospital to establish a new class of smart textiles for smart drug-delivery systems.
“The lymph sleeve, for example, will be developed using lightweight actuating fabric that will detect swelling and then respond by ‘squeezing’ the arm to enhance lymph flow,” explains Dr Foroughi. “We are also investigating the possibility of employing it in artificial heart muscles for positive support of the right ventricle.”