Engineers at the Rice University’s Brown School of Engineering lab created snug-fit athletic shirts that are capable of monitoring heart rate and EKG data. Carbon nanotube threads woven into the shirt’s fabric gather heart rate data and EKG at the same standards set for chest-strap monitors, and had shown better performance at collecting live electrocardiogram (EKG) measurements during experiments.

Chemical and biomolecular engineer Matteo Pasquali explained that the athletic wear was sewn with nanotube fibers that are just as conductive as metal wires; but better. In addition to being comfortable, the athletic shirts are washable and less likely to break when the wearer is in motion.

Lead author Lauren Taylor mentioned that the shirt has to fit snugly on the wearer but without fear of breaking the nano threads since they used zigzag stitches that enable the fabric to stretch without the fibers breaking. Taylor also said that in future researches, they will be focusing on covering more surface area of the wearer’s skin by utilizing thicker patches of carbon nanotube threads.

While the fibers supply the wearer’s skin with steady electrical contact, they also act as electrodes that allow the shirt to transmit data via Bluetooth, to a nearby smartphone apps or a Holter monitor.

Researchers See the Importance of Nanotube Fibers in Development of Wearables

The Rice researchers believe that the nanotube fibers can have endless applications as they can be attached to LEDs or antennas in clothing. The clothing could also monitor other vital signs, such as force exertion, or respiratory rate, just by changing the fibers; geometry and adding the right electronics.

Pasquali believes that the carbon nanotube threads will become a staple material for wearables as it combines conductivity, biocompatibility, and softness of material. He added that even though the wearable market is still small, it could open opportunities for the development of a new generation of sustainable materials similar to the nano tube carbon threads. Materials that are also derived from hydrocarbons through direct splitting processes.

Study author Lauren Taylor added that other areas of potential applications include health monitors, ballistic protection in military wear, and human-machine interfaces for soft robotics or automobiles. She added that a demonstration performed years ago, proved that carbon nanotube fivers are better than Kevlar at dispersing energy on a per-weight basis.