Hierarchically buckled sheath-core fibers for superelastic electronics, sensors, and muscles

Science  24 Jul 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6246, pp. 400-404
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa7952

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Composite stretchable conducting wires

Think how useful a stretchable electronic “skin” could be. For example you could place it over an aircraft fuselage or a body to create a network of sensors, processors, energy stores, or artificial muscles. But it is difficult to make electronic interconnects and strain sensors that can stretch over such surfaces. Liu et al. created superelastic conducting fibers by depositing carbon nanotube sheets onto a prestretched rubber core (see the Perspective by Ghosh). The nanotubes buckled on relaxation of the core, but continued to coat it fully and could stretch enormously, with relatively little change in resistance.

Science, this issue p. 400; see also p. 382


Superelastic conducting fibers with improved properties and functionalities are needed for diverse applications. Here we report the fabrication of highly stretchable (up to 1320%) sheath-core conducting fibers created by wrapping carbon nanotube sheets oriented in the fiber direction on stretched rubber fiber cores. The resulting structure exhibited distinct short- and long-period sheath buckling that occurred reversibly out of phase in the axial and belt directions, enabling a resistance change of less than 5% for a 1000% stretch. By including other rubber and carbon nanotube sheath layers, we demonstrated strain sensors generating an 860% capacitance change and electrically powered torsional muscles operating reversibly by a coupled tension-to-torsion actuation mechanism. Using theory, we quantitatively explain the complementary effects of an increase in muscle length and a large positive Poisson’s ratio on torsional actuation and electronic properties.

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