Materials scientists have created fabrics that can both detect light and conduct electricity, suggesting new light-detecting textiles and novel projection screens.
Reporting in the Oct. 14 Nature, Yoel Fink and his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology wove fabrics out of hollow fibers 400 to 500 microns in diameter. The fibers consist of a glass core that generates an electric signal when illuminated, a middle layer of four tin wires,
and a polymer envelope. To make the fibers, the researchers created a rod of the materials and then heated and drew it out into thin fibers, bringing the three materials into close contact.
Light shone on the fibers causes them to produce a current, which then flows through the tin wires. Because fabric made from the fibers has a grid structure, a computer hooked up to the textile can track the location of an illuminated spot on the fabric’s surface.
One of the next steps is to reverse the process and make fibers that emit light in response to an electric signal, perhaps opening up ways of making fabrics with patterns that can change.