In a breakthrough discovery, scientists from North Carolina State University, Flinders University, and South Korea have developed a new metallic coating treatment for wearable textiles that can repair itself, repel bacteria, and monitor electrocardiogram (ECG) heart signals. The team’s use of conductive circuits created by liquid metal (LM) particles has the potential to revolutionize wearable electronics, soft robotics, and health monitoring systems.
The LM-coated textiles offer effective antimicrobial protection against Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus, providing protective qualities to the treated fabric and preventing contamination if worn for extended periods or in contact with other people. When the coated textiles are pressed with significant force, the particles merge into a conductive path, creating circuits that can maintain conductivity when stretched. The conductive patterns autonomously heal when cut, forming new conductive paths along the edge of the cut.
The breakthrough has significant implications for the development of wearable technology, particularly in healthcare and soft robotics. It could enable the creation of comfortable, flexible, and self-healing electronic textiles that can monitor vital signs and detect disease without being obtrusive or uncomfortable to wear.
The researchers developed the technique by dip-coating fabric into a suspension of LM particles at room temperature, resulting in evenly coated textiles that remain electrically insulating due to the native oxide that forms on the LM particles. The insulating effect can be removed by compressing the textile to rupture the oxide, allowing the particles to percolate.
The particles of gallium-based liquid metals have low melting points, metallic electrical conductivity, high thermal conductivity, effectively zero vapor pressure, low toxicity, and antimicrobial properties. LMs have both fluidic and metallic properties, making them promising for applications such as microfluidics, soft composites, sensors, thermal switches, and microelectronics.
The breakthrough is still in the early stages of development, but the researchers say that the potential applications are vast and exciting. The technology has the potential to transform the way we think about clothing and textiles, making them more interactive and functional while still being aesthetically pleasing and comfortable to wear.