Graphene-coated fibers make a good fit for wearable electronics

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The complex process involves transferring graphene from copper foils to a polypropylene fiber common in the textile industry(Credit: A. Neves/T. Bointon/L. Melo/S. Russo/I. Schrijver/M. Craciun/H. Alves)

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Researchers have successfully transferred monolayer graphene to fibers commonly used in the textile industry. The transparent, flexible material could one day be used to create embedded wearable electronics, such as phones, fitness trackers or MP3 players.

Not only is graphene strong and flexible, but it's also the thinnest substance capable of conducting electricity, giving it huge potential for use in smart clothing. We've seen previous studies focus on using the material in textiles, with scientists at Pennsylvania State University and Japan's Shinshu University creating graphene-based stretchable conductive yarn just last year.

For the new study, the research team worked with monolayer graphene – a form of the material well-suited to the task thanks to its flexibility, mechanical strength and electrical conductivity. The material was grown using chemical vapor deposition (CVD) onto copper foil using a nonoCVD system. Once grown, the team set to work transferring the graphene from the copper foils to a common polypropylene fiber.

The process involves spin-coating the graphene/copper substrate with a thin polymethylmetacrylate (PMMA) film before performing copper etching, and then transferring the graphene to the fibers. Finally, the PMMA film is removed via hot acetone cleaning, leaving a continuous coat of graphene monolayers over the fibers.

The team believes that its research could prove instrumental in efforts to incorporate electronics devices into wearable fabric products – a potentially game-changing development for the industry.

"Successful manufacturing of wearable electronics has the potential for a disruptive technology with a wide array of potential new applications," says researcher Dr. Isabel De Schrijver. "We are very excited about the potential of this breakthrough and look forward to seeing where it can take the electronics industry in the future."

The project was a collaborative effort between scientists at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, the Belgian Textile Research Centre (CenTexBel), the Institute for Systems Engineering and Computers, Microsystems and Nanotechnology (INESC-MN) in Lisbon, and the Universities of Lisbon and Aveiro in Portugal.

The findings of the study were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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