Scientists in Korea have developed clothing that lights up to warn wearers when the surrounding air is so polluted that it could make them sick. The fabric is coated with graphene—a strong, conductive, thin, and inexpensive material made of a single layer of carbon atoms. When the material detects toxic levels of certain gases, it triggers an LED light to turn on, signaling to the wearer that the air is dangerous.
To create the fabric, the researchers first coated cotton and polyester yarn with nanoglue (organic molecules that are used to stick together tiny electronic components). Then the yarn was wrapped in graphene oxide sheets and exposed to a chemical reduction process. The final product was a material that changes its electrical resistance when exposed to nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant gas that is a product of vehicle exhaust and fossil fuel combustion. When the fabric detects unsafe levels of nitrogen dioxide, an LED turns on to warn the wearer. Prolonged exposure to this common pollutant causes health hazards, such as respiratory-related illnesses.
While other gas sensors already exist, this new technology stands out for being more sensitive and practical, because it is a flexible material and a relatively simple and inexpensive manufacturing process that could be scaled up for mass production. “This sensor can bring a significant change to our daily life since it was developed with flexible and widely used fibers, unlike the gas sensors invariably developed with the existing solid substrates,” said Dr. Hyung-Kun Lee, who led the research. The study, which was conducted by a team of researchers from the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute and Konkuk University, is described in Scientific Reports.