U.S. Scientists Create Cloth That Can Listen

Applications include clothes that are sensitive microphones and tiny filaments that can measure blood flow in the brain.

The new fibers are based on a similar plastic to that used in microphones. Photo: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Scientists in the United States have created a cloth that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase power dressing. The team, led by Professor Yoel Fink of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has created a type of functional fibre that can hear and emit noise, MIT said in a statement.

The development, described in the August issue of Nature Materials, transforms the usual passive nature of textiles into a virtually all-singing, all-dancing version.

According to the researchers, “applications could include clothes that are themselves sensitive microphones, for capturing speech or monitoring bodily functions, and tiny filaments that could measure blood flow in capillaries or pressure in the brain.”

The decade-old research project aims to “develop fibers with ever more sophisticated properties, to enable fabrics that can interact with their environment,” MIT said.

The researchers believe that the new space-age cloth can not only listen, but make sound. “You can actually hear them, these fibers,” Noemie Chocat, part of the lab team, said.

“If you connected them to a power supply and applied a sinusoidal current, then it would vibrate. And if you make it vibrate at audible frequencies and put it close to your ear, you could actually hear different notes or sounds coming out of it.”

The new fibers are based on a similar plastic to that used in microphones. However, the researchers manipulated the fluorine content to ensure its molecules stayed lopsided. That imbalance makes the plastic piezoelectric, meaning it changes shape when an electric field is applied.

“In addition to wearable microphones and biological sensors, applications of the fibers could include loose nets that monitor the flow of water in the ocean and large-area sonar imaging systems with much higher resolutions,” MIT said.

“A fabric woven from acoustic fibers would provide the equivalent of millions of tiny acoustic sensors.” [via Sydney Morning Herald and Mother Nature Network]

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