Sew-able Carbon Nanotube Thread Could Spin A Lot Of Awesome

A shirt with carbon nanotube threads stitched into a shirt monitor the wearer's heart rate.

Plenty of people just plain dislike wearing jewelry, even (or especially) smart watches. Nevertheless, they’d like to have biofeedback like everybody else. Well, we watch-less ones have something to look forward to, because a group of graduate students at Rice University have created extremely strong conductive thread woven from carbon nanotubes, which can be sewn into standard athletic clothing and used as electrodes, antennas, or simply as ballistic protection.

At 22 microns wide, the original carbon nanotubes were too skinny to use as thread. Instead, the team braided together three bundles of seven ‘tubes each using the type of machine that model boat builders use to make tiny rigging. Then they zig-zag stitched the threads into a shirt, which gives the stitches added flexibility. This thread maybe as strong and conductive as metal, but the fibers are soft and flexible, and most importantly, machine-washable. Between its strength and conductivity, this thread could have a long list of applications from military down to civilian. Check out the introduction in the video after the break.

For now, the shirt has to be pretty snug, but future garments could easily have higher concentrations of nano-threads in order to get a better signal. Good thing, because we’re still carrying around our COVID nineteen — aka the weight we’ve gained since the longest March of anyone’s life, and never liked tight shirts anyway.

What else can carbon nanotubes do? Plenty, like keep 3D prints from delaminating.

Via New Atlas

18 thoughts on “Sew-able Carbon Nanotube Thread Could Spin A Lot Of Awesome

  1. The mechanical properties of carbon nanotubes (stiff, light, strong) make me wonder why they would be “softer” than a metallic thread produced and used in the same way.
    I would suspect that similarly thin, braided, zig-zag stainless steel wires would be just as good and far cheaper.

    1. stainless steel wires would be a lot stiffer and will fatigue much faster which would end with you having to extract very thing pointy bits of metal from your skin. Not exactly just as good. Carbon nanotubes aren’t “stiff” in the traditional sense of the word. They’re quite flexible perpendicular to the “long” direction of the tube, but have very, very little stretch/elongation parallel to the long axis of the tube, which means they conform much better to the surface than a metal wire would.
      I am however at this time a bit skeptical on the safety aspects of this. Would failure of some of the carbon nanotubes end with those things poking into the skin? How does the body react to that? How long does this carbon nanothread last? Can a shirt like this be washed?

          1. Less happy than what? Personally I gave almost no experience in the fatigue properties of nanotubes, but I know a fair bit about spring steel, including stainless.
            If you make anything into very thin fibres it becomes soft and flexible. Just look at glass fibres.

  2. “Plenty of people just plain dislike wearing jewelry, even (or especially) smart watches.”

    Especially smart watches. I dislike carrying a cabbage around on my wrist all day.

    I own a mechanical watch that was made in 1949. It is small, thin, and light. When I wear a watch, that’s what I wear. When I take it to the store to have it cleaned, the clerks invariably flag it as a woman’s watch, though it is definitely a man’s watch as designated by the manufacturer.

    I see no point in the enormous, heavy watches every one loves these days. I see even less point in the “electronic cabbage heads” that are smart watches.


    I’m not a luddite. I have a rather large smart phone that is always at the ready in my back pocket. I’m just not into big, heavy watches.

    1. Interesting how whenever someone dislikes something, it has to be given some sort of belittling nickname. Why not just say that you don’t like smartwatches because they’re too big for your taste?

    2. I like a watch which has a pure digital time display (no clock hands), has the precision of a quartz oscillator, a few sensors like temperature, compass and air pressure, is completely water resistant (200m/20bar) and does not need battery changes. For that I can accept, that it is a little bigger.
      Although with its weight of ~100g (mostly due to the metal wrist band) it is far, far away from a usable cabbage.

      Another thing: For me it is important, that the watch does not make any (ticking) noises during the night.

      1. That kind of watch could still be smaller and lighter than most modern watches.

        There’s no technical reason why a simple, digital watch has to be the size of a snuff can – but most are.

        It’s a fashion thing. Digital watches were smaller back in the day – not much bigger than my Bulova mechanical watch.

        Then came diver’s watches became popular (showing what a studly, manly man you are by wearing a diver’s watch that never dived any deeper than the bottom of the bath tub.)

        That style stayed popular. Never mind how useless or inconvenient they are. They’re in fashion, so that’s all that’s made.

        1. Today it is all about jewelry – big, bulky and flashy but mostly unreadable. You can easily get a good watch for 100€ but if you want it to be thin and/or readable than your choice is very narrow.

  3. from their Letter: “…the average room-temperature electrical conductivity was 10.9 ± 1.2 MS/m. ”

    or about 50% better than the best known room-temperature conductor, silver.

    Incredible. As in, literally not credible.

    I look forward to someone replicating these results. Paradigm-changing if true.

    1. The high conductivity of carbon nanotubes and graphene is well established and has been replicated by countless research groups. This is attributed to the very low carrier scattering of carbon atomic lattices which can be directly derived using Bloch equations. Metal has higher carrier scattering at room temp, thus lower conductivity.

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