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chain-mail fabric holds promise for smart textiles
Kloeppel, Physical Sciences Editor
photo to enlarge
by L. Brian Stauffer
Liu, a Willett Scholar and a professor of electrical
and computer engineering, and colleagues have fabricated
the world's smallest chain-mail fabric.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. —
Scientists at the University of Illinois have fabricated the world’s
smallest chain-mail fabric. Combined with existing processing techniques,
the flexible, metallic fabric holds promise for fully engineered smart
“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 Willett Scholar and a professor
of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois.
photo to enlarge
courtesy Chang Liu
of released metallic fabric that is expanded to
the maximum area.
The fabric was made by Liu and graduate student Jonathan Engel. They
describe the fabric and the fabrication process in the March issue of
the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering.
The fabric is similar in construction to the chain-mail armor worn by
medieval knights. It consists of a network of small rings about 500
microns in diameter and even smaller links about 400 microns long (a
micron is 1 millionth of a meter). 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, who also is affiliated
with the university’s Beckman
Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, the Institute
for Genomic Biology, and the Micro
and Nanotechnology Laboratory.
“The resulting fabric could generate electricity, detect movement
or damage, or serve some other active role,” Liu said.
Although demonstrated at the wafer scale, the researchers’ chain-mail
fabric could be made in large swatches by existing roll-to-roll processes.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency funded the work.
Editor’s note: To reach Chang Liu, call
217-333-4051; e-mail: email@example.com.