Imagine if your sweater was actually one big computer that responded to being stretched, pressed, or adjusted. That cyborg-inspired future could now be a reality thanks to a team of scientists that has used nanowires to create a new wearable, multifunctional sensor. The sensor uses some of the same technology that’s at work in smartphone screens, but a novel approach to engineering means that it can be stretched to 150 times its normal size.
A clear, bandage-like sensor could eventually make everything from fabrics to our fingers smart. Dr. Yong Zhu and a team of North Carolina State University researchers created an ultra-thin, flexible sensor that could be used in clothing, on the body, any in other ordinary objects to track things like strain, pressure, human touch, and bioelectronic signals. The endeavor began in 2012 when Zhu developed elastic conductors made from carbon nanotubes. The technique he used was fairly simple: silver nanowires are placed on a silicon plate, and then a liquid polymer is poured over them and heated, converting it from a liquid to an elastic solid.