Story at a glance

  • Researchers sewed a nanotube fiber into a shirt.
  • In tests, they were able to obtain heart rate and continuous electrocardiogram data.
  • The signals from the fibers were similar to traditional equipment.

People who have heart conditions may find it useful to be able to monitor their heart consistently and without being attached to a lot of equipment. To work toward this goal, a team based at Rice University have tested a shirt that can monitor heart rate and take a continual electrocardiogram (EKG). The team wanted to test a new method for gathering data that could be worn as a piece of clothing that is less clunky and results in as good or better information than traditional methods.

They used a nanotube fiber that is conductive like metal wires but is washable and flexible enough to be worked into clothing.

“Because of the combination of conductivity, good contact with the skin, biocompatibility and softness, carbon nanotube threads are a natural component for wearables,” says Matteo Pasquali, lead researcher on the project at Rice University, in a press release.

Individually, the nanotube filaments were too thin to use as thread for sewing. So the researchers figured out a way to weave several strands together.

“We worked with somebody who sells little machines designed to make ropes for model ships,” said Rice graduate student Lauren Taylor in the press release. Tayler at first had tried to weave the thread by hand, with limited success. The model ship person was able to make a medium-scale device that does the same with the nanotube filaments as the ropes.


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Once they had a usable thread, the researchers wove it into shirts in a zig-zag pattern. In tests, the shirt with nanotube threads woven in was better at gathering data than a chest strap monitor, according to the results published in the journal Nano Letters.

“The shirt has to be snug against the chest,” says Taylor. “In future studies, we will focus on using denser patches of carbon nanotube threads so there's more surface area to contact the skin.”

“We're in the same situation as solar cells were a few decades ago,” Pasquali said. “We need application leaders that can provide a pull for scaling up production and increasing efficiency.”


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Published on Sep 04, 2021