Wearable electronics may be coming closer, thanks to graphene and a way to farm much stronger silk.
‘Your flies are undone mate,’ said, the underpants to the zip.
Electronics could he built into our clothing, and for that matter, are clothing may be a lot silkier, thanks to findings from researchers at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Graphene is the new wonder material first isolated at Manchester University 12 years or so ago by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov.
Its isolation may yet prove to be the single most important scientific breakthrough of this century so far. One atom thick, 200 times stronger than steel, graphene could replace silicon in computers giving Moore’s Law a new lease of life, it could be used to make solar energy more efficient, radically enhance energy storage, be used for cost effective water desalination and make stronger materials, such as condoms. It is used in Novak Djokovic’s tennis racket. It is also transparent.
The researchers from Beijing have found that if you dissolve it in water, and spray it on mulberry leaves and feed it to silk worms, (umm, sounds delicious) something extraordinary happens.
Not only do the silk worms think they have just enjoyed a feast cooked by Heston Blumenthal, the silk they produce can cope with 50% more stress and is twice as strong as ordinary silk.
The material can also conduct electricity, so it could also double up as wearable electronics, meaning your zip can talk to your socks and can have a jolly good chat with your buttons. Aside from all this clothing chatter, it will support technology that can constantly measure your life signs, your vitals, providing a wealth of data to diagnose disease at an early stage.
Scientists are unclear on why this effect is occurring and speculate that it could be modified to create even stronger silk.
Since graphene was first isolated in 2004, much has been postulated about what it will be able to do. But so far, we have heard a lot about breakthroughs, but aside from the victims of Djokovic’s stroke play – which frankly has got more to do with Nokak’s supreme ability than graphene – there have been very few, if any examples of graphene being applied for real.
But then there are always time lags between a scientific discovery and its practical applications coming on the market.
There is a view that the next few years will see a rush of graphene based products sold, while some speculate that graphene used to enhance silk may be one of the first.