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You probably won’t find many nanotechnologists at New York Fashion Week, but that may soon change thanks to the work of Felice Torrisi, a researcher This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." target="_blank">at the Cambridge Graphene Center who is pioneering the future of wearable tech.

Earlier this year, Torrisi and his colleagues at Cambridge published a paper in Nature Communications that showed how to print fully-integrated washable and stretchable electronic circuits onto fabric.

Despite their prevalence in science fiction—from Marty McFly’s auto-fitted jacket in Back to the Future to the neonwave of Tron—wearable electronics have struggled to see wide adoption. Although there were some limited successes like the Apple Watch or Fitbit, these devices were either too cumbersome, ugly, or superfluous.

“The so-called wearable devices which we see nowadays have a huge limitation, which is in their rigid electronic parts,” Torrisi told me in an email. “Truly wearable devices will have to fulfill all the requirements of the clothes we wear, such as comfort, breathability, washability, and so on. We wear textiles every day, so integrating electronics using fabric was the most sensible thing to do.”

Torrisi said he doesn’t exactly consider himself a fashionista, but he did realize that if wearable tech was ever going to take off, it would only be due to a much more natural melding of regular clothing and electronics.

To solve this problem, Torrisi and his colleagues designed a process for printing graphene, a 2-D form of carbon, directly onto fabric to create full electronic circuits. Using this technique, Torrisi and his colleagues printed a reprogrammable memory system and a logic gate—two core components in most everyday electronics— onto polyester. For now, the devices are just proofs of concept and the circuits are too small to be worn. But Torrisi said he and his colleagues are working with clothing designers to demonstrate larger prototypes on clothing items next year.

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Category: Science