When you’re on the go, don’t worry about forgetting to recharge your iPhone. Pretty soon you might be wearing the recharger.

That’s right. Cornell researchers have figured out a way to make cotton conductive. It’s all coming out of the laboratory of Juan Hinestroza, assistant professor of Fiber Science and Apparel Design. (Who knew there was such a field? It sounds like Cornell really is following its founder’s motto:  “I would found an institution where any person could find instruction in any study.”)

Hinestroza and his colleagues developed a technique to permanently coat cotton fibers with electrically conductive nanoparticles. This technology works so well that simple knots in such specially treated thread can complete a circuit.

The threads can conduct electric current as well as a metal wire can, “yet remain light and comfortable enough to give a whole new meaning to multi-use garments,” according to the press release.

This coming weekend, Hinestroza’s student, Abbey Liebman will demonstrate the new technology. Not at a science conference, but at Once Upon A Runway, Cornell Design League's 26th Anniversary Fashion Show.

Liebman was inspired by the technology to design a dress that actually uses flexible solar cells to power small electronics from a USB charger located in the waist. The charger can power a smartphone or an MP3 player.

“Instead of conventional wires, we are using our conductive cotton to transmit the electricity-- so our conductive yarns become part of the dress,” Hinestroza said.

And Cornell isn’t the only institution exploring electronic haberdashery. A couple of weeks ago, our neighbors at the Exploratorium hosted an event where the Young Makers group and the public at large could experiment “using conductive thread, LEDs, sewable batteries, magnetic clasps, and plain good old-fashioned embroidery to create digital wearable jewelry and garments.”

Coming soon to a Gap near you?

Creative Commons image by FatChuang

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