Canadian researchers may have found how to develop light-emitting fabric based on principles taken from typical ultrasheer tights (known as pantyhose in North America). Current approaches to producing light-emitting apparel can involve stiff diodes, wires and optical fibers within the textiles that are difficult or impossible to wash. Light-emitting displays that can be integrated into fabrics that are soft, lightweight, stretchable, washable and truly wearable would be a significant improvement.
In a recent article published in the journal Matter, senior author Tricia Carmichael, a professor of surface and materials chemistry at the University of Windsor, notes how addressing limitations of existing light-emitting fabrics could mean improvements in various market applications, including workwear for night-time construction workers and safer athletic apparel.
As reported on www.Phys.org, the author’s lead author Yunyun Wu had the idea to use sheer fabrics to form the transparent conductor, a crucial element of all light-emitting devices. Together they realized the material used in sheer tights was ideal to build new electrodes. The team used electroless nickel-immersion gold metallization to coat pantyhose with a highly conductive gold film only about 100 nm thick. The coating process allowed the fabric to retain semi-transparency and stretchiness. Using this technique the researchers then created patterned light-emitting textiles with a dynamic display.
Carmichael believes they will be able to scale the technology by increasing the volume of the plating solution. Also, by using existing fabrics, no new textile manufacturing is required. The primary remaining hurdle is how to power the devices. The team is exploring a range of options for seamless integration.