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Yarn goes high-tech and nano-small

Science / AAAS

(A and B) Scanning electron micrographs of lateral and cross-sectional views, respectively, of laminated Si3N4 and carbon nanotube sheets that were biscrolled into yarn. The brighter regions correspond to the carbon nanotubes. (C) Scanning electron micrograph of an undensified biscrolled yarn containing TiO2 powder. (D and E) Scanning electron micrographs showing that biscrolled carbon nanotube yarns containing 95 weight percent LiFePO4 (for high performance batteries) and 88% weight percent SiO2 powder, respectively, are sufficiently strong to be knotted. (F) Optical micrograph showing that a biscrolled yarn containing 85 weight percent TiO2 can be sewn into Kevlar textile.

High-tech clothes that function as batteries and fuel cells, some of them even self-cleaning, may all be possible — thanks to a new type of yarn developed by nanotechnologists.

The high-tech yarn is spun out of carbon nanotubes infused with powdered particles that are traditionally tricky to work with. Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas developed a way to deposit the particles on a web of carbon nanotubes. and then twist them up into yarn.


The powder accounts for up to 95 percent of the mass of the so-called bioscrolled yarns. which can then be knitted, knotted, braided and sewn into other fiber and textile products, including clothing. Laboratory tests show it can even be washed without losing many of the powdered particles, thus retaining their functionality.

The functionality of the yarn depends on the powder sprayed onto the nanotubes. A material found in lithium ion battery electrodes, for example, was used to make a yarn that was "shown to have the battery performance, flexibility and mechanical robustness needed for incorporation in energy-storing and energy-generating clothing," UT-Dallas said in a news release.  A paper describing the technology is reported in last week's issue of the journal Science.

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John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).