Research conducted at NASA could lead to smart fabrics and wearable electronics.
Jain-Woo Han and Maya Mayan at the Centre for Nanotechnology at NASA Ames Research Centre have developed a flexible memory fabric woven together from interlocking strands of copper and copper-oxide wires.
At each juncture (stitch) along the fabric, a nanoscale application of platinum is placed between the fibres and this sandwich structure at each crossing forms a resistive memory circuit.
As described in AIP Advances, the copper-oxide fibres serve as the storage medium because they are able to change from an insulator to a conductor by applying a voltage.
The copper wires and the platinum layers serve as the bottom and top electrodes, respectively.
This design is said to easily lend itself to textiles because it naturally forms a crossbar memory structure where the fibres intersect.
The researchers developed a reversible, rewritable memory system that was able to retain information for more than 100 days.
In this proof-of-concept design, the copper wires were 1mm thick, although smaller-diameter wire would allow for an increase in memory density and a reduction in weight.
In practical applications, e-textiles would need to integrate a battery or power generator, sensors and a computational element, as well as a memory structure.
Taken together, an e-textile could potentially detect biomarkers for various diseases, monitor vital signs in the elderly or individuals in hostile environments and then transmit that information to doctors.