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Conductive Cotton: Scientists Fashioning Electronic Future for Cotton Fiber

The latest breakthrough in cotton fiber research has scientists envisioning hospital gowns that monitor medical patients and jerseys that test athletic performance, according to Cornell University fiber scientist Juan Hinestroza, co-author of a new study that reveals how everyday cotton can be turned into high-tech fabric.

Hinestroza, professor of fiber science in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology, is part of an international team that developed transistors using natural cotton fibers, gold nanoparticles and polymers. The research builds on his previous work indicating such technology is possible, and will be published in the December 2011 issue of the journal Organic Electronics (currently online at

The innovation represents a significant step forward because it lays the groundwork for creating even more complex devices, such as cotton-based circuits, Hinestroza said. This would allow fabrics to sense body temperature, automatically heat up or cool down, track heart rate and blood pressure in high-risk patients, and monitor the physical effort of high-performance athletes.

“Perhaps one day we can even build computers out of cotton fibers in a similar way as khipus – a recording device based on knots and used by the Inca empire in Peru,” Hinestroza added.

In the study, the first step was aimed at creating a conformal layer of gold nanoparticles over the rough topography of cotton. The next layers were either conductive or semiconductive coatings; the final step was to build the devices. “The layers were so thin that the flexibility of the cotton fibers was preserved,” Hinestroza said.

Two kinds of active transistors, organic electrochemical transistors and organic field effect transistors, were also demonstrated. Both kinds are widely used in the electronics industry as components of integrated circuits, which control the functions of such common devices as phones, televisions and game consoles.

The study represented an interdisciplinary, collaborative effort between fiber scientists from Cornell, physicists from the University of Bologna, electrical engineers from the University of Cagliari and materials scientists from the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Mines de Saint Etienne in France.

Contact Syl Kacapyr for information about Cornell's TV and radio studios.

Syl Kacapyr | Newswise Science News
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