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Sameer Sonkusale & Rachel Owyeung
Sameer Sonkusale & Rachel Owyeung

Interview with Sameer Sonkusale & Rachel Owyeung

Textiles an ideal medium for advanced electronics

A team at the Tufts University in Massachusetts was recently in news for developing a new fabrication method to create dyed threads that change colour when these detect a variety of gases. Researchers Sameer Sonkusale and Rachel E Owyeung spoke to Dipesh K Satapathy about their findings.

TT: Please tell us about your team and your research on smart fabrics and textiles.

We are a research lab at Tufts University with a strong interest in making flexible sensors and electronics for wearable and medical applications. Our research team consists of mostly graduate students and postdoctoral researchers with some undergraduate students. Being highly interdisciplinary, we have researchers from all backgrounds: electrical engineering, biomedical engineering, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, material science, etc.  Smart fabrics and textiles is one of the recent platforms for flexible bioelectronics that we are pursuing. We like this platform because threads and fabrics are universal and there is so much innovation still to be done.

TT: What are the latest trends in flexible bioelectronics and how important is the role of technical / smart textiles in that?

The field of flexible bioelectronics is built on implementing strategies for better conformal contact between the electronic devices and the user's human body. There is a lot of research activity that exploits flexible polymers and soft materials to realise a suite of devices ranging from fluidics, electronics, antennas, batteries, sensors and even therapy. Textile is an ideal medium for this as the industry has refined threads for centuries to purposefully and comfortably place these-whether clothes or wound dressings-at the interface with the body.

TT: What are the probable medical, workplace, military and rescue applications of the dyed threads that your team has fabricated?

The optical dyes that we used on our threads in our work in Scientific Reports are versatile. Since there are hundreds of different optical dye types, we can use the collective response of many optical dyes to create unique chemical 'fingerprints', where each gas has its own unique colour change pattern. This gives us the power to sense a wide range of gases, so the potential applications are immense. As an example of where our threads can be used, we have sewn some of our functionalised threads into our lab coats to help monitor our own lab environment. It can also be used in mining to detect hazardous gases much like a canary in the mine.

TT: Tell us about your work on smart bandages and their probable applications.

This is peripherally related to our work on smart threads. We have made a suite of bandages with several sensors that can monitor wirelessly whether a wound is healing. Doctors and caregivers get the information on their phone and prescribe treatments based on the progress made on healing. We also embedded flexible drug delivery platforms inside the wound dressing to deliver drugs on demand into the wound. This was the first of its kind closed-loop smart bandage for drug delivery.

TT: Your lab has developed a reel-to-reel processing of treating and coating textile threads to create thread-based platforms for tissue-embedded diagnostics. Please explain.

This reel-to-reel processing enables fabrication of smart threads. To provide our threads with the ability to sense, we coat them or "dye them" with a sensing dye. To make them work as electrodes, we coat them in conducting ink. It is essentially a coating process to infuse threads with different sensing or functional inks.

TT: How satisfying are the results of your experiments with real-time monitoring of sweat using thread-based sensing technology?

This is an ongoing research activity. Results seem to be promising. When we have the full results, we will publish them soon enough for the world to see.

TT: Let us know about the other areas of your research where smart threads are applied, such as electronic skin for prosthetics, microelectrode arrays for brain implants, brain-machine interface, and a textile dressing for temporal and dosage-controlled drug delivery.

These are all possible areas of applications where smart threads can find potential applications. As and when we generate promising results on these areas, we will publish them.

TT: What percentage of these technologies is patented and which one of these have been commercialised or are under consideration for commercialisation?

Most of the innovative platforms related to sensing threads have been submitted for patent protection. There are ongoing discussions for commercialisation and we continue to welcome contacts from the industry to help us commercialise this further.

TT: In which other unexplored areas do you see the applications of smart fabrics in future?

I think we covered many. I am sure space applications would be a perfect pie in the sky to aim for.

Published on: 14/06/2019

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of technicaltextile.net.


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