Written by: Caroline Ellington, ABM Textile Engineering Student
When someone mentions the term “wearable electronics,” many of us, even in today’s technologically advanced society, may not really understand what it means. What are wearable electronics? And moreover, why do they matter to us? Dr. Jesse Jur, an Assistant Professor in Textile Engineering and Textile Technology, does extensive work and research in the field of wearable electronics and nanotechnology. The type of technology Dr. Jur focuses on is creating wearable platforms (like patch wristbands, or even shirts) that are able to harvest energy from the human body using small wearable devices. With that energy, the electronic device is then able to track certain aspects of interior or exterior health, such as a person’s electrocardiogram (ECG) signal or a person’s walking style. Dr. Jur sees nanotechnology and wearable electronics as an integral part of the future of health care. As these devices become more advanced and more accessible to a wider range of consumers, it will be possible for people to track more aspects of their health for longer periods of time and enable the population to maintain healthier lifestyles without a dependence on battery powered sources. From a textiles standpoint, wearable electronics represent exciting advancements in apparel as well as accessories; from embedded sensors in shirts to bracelets equipped with nanotechnology. Cutting edge technology is being developed right here in the department of Textile Engineering, Chemistry and Science.
Dr. Jur spent five weeks of summer leading a program centered on wearable electronics in conjunction with the College of Education and Dr. Gail Jones, a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education professor of the College of Education. The program was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Nanosystems Engineering Research Center (NERC) for Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies (ASSIST: http://assist.ncsu.edu/). This summer program, as well as ASSIST, are only in their first year, but are proving to be successful and enriching for those involved.
The attendees of this inaugural five-week program included a combination of local middle school and high school STEM teachers as well as local high school students from some of Wake County’s best and brightest STEM-focused schools. The teachers in attendance are from an external program called Research Experience for Teachers (RET). RET provides teachers with the opportunity to experience new and exciting advancements in a variety of different fields first-hand so that they can then integrate what they learn into their lesson plans and share the latest breakthroughs with their students. The student participants are part of the Young Scholars (YS) program; a competitive program that selects high-achieving students with a passion for learning to participate in special enrichment programs, such as this one at the Wilson College of Textiles.
Student and teacher participants were divided into smaller teams as the program progressed. Each mixed team worked together to design and complete an experiment with wearable electronics. To prepare everyone to do their best and understand the basics of wearable electronics, Dr. Jur led the participants through “crash courses” in integrated circuits, fundamentals of circuits, design studies, use of different wearable electronics, training on SolidWorks and 3D printing. Participants were able to create their own wearable bracelet that harvests heat from their body to create power. Participants also visited and toured labs in several engineering departments that are related to NERC and ASSIST, such as Mechanical Science and Engineering, Textile Engineering, Computer Science and Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Chemical Engineering. It can be said that this program and wearable electronics are truly multidisciplinary and facilitate introducing participants to a broad spectrum of STEM fields. NC State University was recently named as a top STEM university in the country, and is a hotbed for technological advances. This program is a prime example of STEM outreach that goes on at State.
Dr. Gail Jones, of the College of Education specializes in Nanotechnology research and how people comprehend and understand it. As the precollege education director for ASSIST, Dr. Jones has created partnerships with the teachers participating in the Research Experience for Teachers. The teachers are from four schools in Wake County: Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School, Wake County STEM Early College High School, Carroll Leadership and Technology Magnet Middle School, and Centennial Campus Magnet Middle School.
“Teachers are being exposed to a large array of very exciting new research initiatives on campus,” said Dr. Jones of the experience. “This program is an exciting way for teachers to update their knowledge, tools, and techniques of research in science and engineering disciplines so they can then pass on the knowledge they gain to their students and excite the next generation with unique and interesting real examples.”
Dr. Jones also remarked on how the summer experience has been eye-opening for participating students and teachers as they have been exposed to the broad and cutting-edge technologies and applications made possible with textiles. She pointed out nonwovens as an example; “We use many nonwoven products in everyday life- everything from Swiffers to diapers to reusable shopping bags and more. It’s easy to take such products for granted until you get a glimpse of the technology behind them as we have this summer.” One of the outcomes of the summer experience is that each teacher will develop a series of lesson plans that they will use to integrate nanotechnology into their STEM classes next year.
Participating teachers echoed Dr. Jones’ thoughts, and expanded on how valuable this program would be for helping them integrate engineering design into physics and other STEM-type curriculums. Michelle Greshock, a biology and earth science teacher from Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School remarked that “just letting students know that this (wearable electronics) technology exists and conveying to them how cool it is” is something she is looking forward to doing in her classroom to inspire her students. Ms. Greshock hopes that her students will be able to make a field trip over to some of the labs that she was able to visit so they can see for themselves and become excited about new technologies.
Matthew Fiely, a rising junior at Wake County STEM Early College High School and part of the Young Scholars group admitted that prior to beginning the program, he expected lots of lab work during the five week tenure, but instead, he and the other participants had completed many fun and interactive activities that included learning about electronics and nanotechnology. When asked what the biggest takeaway from the program was for him, Matthew said it was visiting the labs and seeing how electronics are actually made.
Although this particular program lasted only five weeks, it plays an important role in furthering STEM education for students and teachers alike in Wake County. The facilities available at the Wilson College of Textiles and the guidance of Dr. Jur create a stimulating, fun, and unique experience for program participants and the knowledge and experiences gained by the students and teachers attending will be beneficial in many ways as STEM fields and wearable electronic technology continue to grow in importance and relevance.