CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Scientists at the
University of Illinois have fabricated the world's smallest
chain-mail fabric. Combined with existing processing techniques, the
flexible, metallic fabric holds promise for fully engineered smart
"The miniature fabric is an important step toward creating textiles
where structure and electronics can be designed, integrated and
controlled from the ground up," said Chang Liu, a Willett Scholar
and a professor of electrical and
computer engineering at Illinois.
The fabric was made by Liu and
graduate student Jonathan Engel. They describe the fabric and the
fabrication process in the March issue of the Journal of
Micromechanics and Microengineering.
The fabric is similar in construction to the chain-mail armor worn
by medieval knights. It consists of a network of small rings about
500 microns in diameter and even smaller links about 400 microns
long (a micron is 1 millionth of a meter). The rings and links are
built upon a planar substrate and then released to create a flexible
sheet that can bend along two axes and drape over curved surfaces.
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Because the rings and links can
slide and rotate against each other, the fabric possesses unique
mechanical and electrical properties. For example, the electrical
resistance changes when the fabric is stretched. These properties
could prove useful for the development of smart fabric and wearable
electronic devices for pervasive computing.
"The first layer of fabric could consist of silicon islands with
embedded circuits or sensors," said Liu, who also is affiliated with
the university's Beckman
Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, the
Institute for Genomic Biology,
and the Micro and
"The resulting fabric could generate electricity, detect movement or
damage, or serve some other active role," Liu said.
Although demonstrated at the wafer scale, the researchers'
chain-mail fabric could be made in large swatches by existing
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency funded the work.
Text copied from
Illinois news release]