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'Back To The Future' Inspires Solar Nanotech-Powered Clothing

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It was all thanks to those self-lacing Nikes Marty McFly had in Back to the Future Part II that a University of Central Florida scientist was able to develop filaments capable of harvesting and storing energy from the sun while being incorporated into textiles.

In a study published in the journal Nature Communications, Jayan Thomas detailed the breakthrough that can basically turn any piece of clothing into a solar-powered batteries that will never require plugging in. According to the nanotechnology scientist, solar nanotech-powered clothing will be particularly helpful for soldiers who have to carry heavy batteries around but it will also be highly convenient for anyone addicted to electronic devices.

"That movie was the motivation. If you can develop self-charging clothes or textiles, you can realize those cinematic fantasies -- that's the cool thing," he said.

Last year, Thomas was a recipient of the R&D 100 Award that recognizes the world's top inventions. He was given the recognition for his work developing a cable capable of not only transmitting energy but also storing said energy like a battery. He was also developing semi-transparent solar cells at the time that can be installed on windows.

Thomas built on these previous works to craft solar nanotech-powered textiles, guided by the idea of combining devices for storing energy and solar cells.

Taking Wearable Tech To The Next Level

Thomas' research team produced the filaments in the form of thin, lightweight and flexible copper ribbons that featured energy-storing layers on one side and solar cells on the other. The copper ribbons were then woven into a square of yarn as proof of concept.

This allowed the researchers to show that the solar filaments can indeed be incorporated into jackets and other kinds of outerwear for harvesting and storing energy to fuel an assortment of devices. With this, Thomas' work overcame a major shortcoming for solar cells.

Aside from military applications, Thomas also sees the technology being applied into electric cars.

Clothing Material Inspired By Everyday Object

Earlier in September, material scientist Yi Cui and colleagues released a study detailing their work on nanoporous polyethylene, or nanoPE, to create a material that aids the body in releasing heat and subsequently cooling it.

Like other clothing materials, the kitchen wrap-inspired material cools down the body by allowing perspiration to evaporate. However, it has an additional mechanism to bring about cooling: letting body heat or infrared radiation to escape. NanoPE was developed by combining chemistry, nanotechnology and photonics.

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