Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Technology

Stretchable Electronics Get Stretchier

Carbon nanotubes allow wires to be stretched and released thousands of times without disrupting the current.

By Andy BergerNovember 30, 2015 6:00 AM
Stretchy Electronics
(Courtesy of University of Texas at Dallas Alan G. MacDiarmid NanoTech Institute)

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

From health monitoring sensors woven into clothing to pacemaker leads that never wear out, stretchable electronics could usher in a new era of wearable tech. But finding superflexible alternatives to metal wires and semiconducting chips has been a challenge. In July, researchers announced a solution. They had built elastic wires that can withstand both extreme strain and thousands of stretch-andrelease cycles.

In previous attempts at making elastic conductors, researchers embedded conductive metallic particles into an elastic insulator, but stretching the material would cause breaks in the conducting path. These new wires can expand to 10 times their original length without choking off the current.

Electronic Stretch
(Courtesy of University of Texas at Dallas Alan G. MacDiarmid NanoTech Institute)

Materials scientist Ray Baughman and his team at the University of Texas at Dallas wrapped a sheet of conducting carbon nanotubes many times around a stretched rubber fiber, with the final product resembling a hair tie. When relaxed, the fiber core and nanotube sheath shrink together, causing the sheath to buckle like an accordion. The researchers found that as long as adjacent buckles don’t touch, a current running through the sheath holds steady as the wire is stretched and relaxed.

Going a step further, the team added a rubber coating and a second nanotube sheath to the original wire to create an electrically activated “muscle” that contracts when connected to a battery.

3 Free Articles Left

Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 70%

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In