Scientists at the University of Illinois have developed the world’s smallest flexible, metallic chain-mail fabric which holds promise for fully engineered smart textiles.
‘The miniature fabric is an important step toward creating textiles where structure and electronics can be designed, integrated and controlled from the ground up,’ said Chang Liu, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois.
The fabric was made by Liu and graduate student Jonathan Engel. It is similar in construction to chain-mail armour, consisting of a network of small rings about 500 microns in diameter and even smaller links of about 400 microns. The rings and links are built upon a planar substrate and then released to create a flexible sheet that can bend along two axes and drape over curved surfaces.
Because the rings and links can slide and rotate against each other, the fabric possesses unique mechanical and electrical properties. For example, the electrical resistance changes when the fabric is stretched. These properties could prove useful for the development of smart fabric and wearable electronic devices for pervasive computing.
‘The first layer of fabric could consist of silicon islands with embedded circuits or sensors,’ said Liu. ‘The resulting fabric could generate electricity, detect movement or damage, or serve some other active role.’
Although demonstrated at the wafer scale, the researchers’ chain-mail fabric could be made in large swatches by existing roll-to-roll processes.