Light-Up Fabric Could Make Glowing Clothing An Everyday Reality

Flashy threads? That's an understatement

The stylish glowing jumpsuits of the Tron-like future have just come a step closer, with the creation of a weavable fabric that lights up. Huisheng Peng and colleagues from Fundan University in Shanghai and UCLA created 1-millimeter thin fibers made from polymer light-emitting electrochemical cells (PLECs), which work much like the organic LEDs found in curved TV displays. Both are flexible semiconductors that emit light, but PLECs are highly elastic, and thus potentially suitable for evening wear.

The semiconductor in Peng’s radiant thread is made from a ultrathin steel wire dipped in zinc oxide nanoparticles and an electroluminescent polymer that emits yellow or blue light. This synthetic yarn is then wrapped in a transparent coat of carbon nanotubes. The 11-nanometer-thin layer softens the textile and lets it be woven together with other organic materials like cotton.

The researchers wove this glowing yarn into clothing that glowed for four hours. (Recent advances with PLEC design could extend the lifespan to thousands of hours.) The fibers require less power than LEDs, making them better suited for plug-free, human-powered wearables. And, since the fibers are transparent and conductive, they can form the heart of solar-powered clothes.

The fashion possibilities are endless.