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Undergraduates, Ph.D. Students Advance E-Textile Research

student conducting research

By Sarah Stone

The Textile Engineering, Chemistry and Science (TECS) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) provided nearly 30 Wilson College of Textiles students with research experience and professional development this summer. 

Below, read about the research students contributed to in Professor Jesse Jur’s lab. 

Two students in e-textile lab

Developing E-textile Printing Methods for Heart Health

From counting our steps to tracking our sleep, health monitoring is becoming more common in our smartphones. Ph.D. student Beomjun Ju and junior Reid Barnett are determining how it can also be integrated into what we wear. 

Their goal is to print silver onto textiles in a way that will create silver chloride on the fabric, thereby generating electrocardiogram (ECG) signals. Those signals record data from a heartbeat and can alert medical professionals to any irregularities. 

“We’re trying to make a product that would be comfortable and breathable and flexible enough that you can wear it for days on end,” Barnett, a textile engineering student, says. “That way, you can get more data for diagnostics to potentially catch a lot more type two diabetes, strokes and heart diseases before they become an even bigger problem.”

It’s this application to the greater good that Barnett says made him excited to spend his summer researching. 

“If these ECGs work and can be implemented into devices that could actually be cheap enough and widespread enough, they could have a lot of impacts on improving the quality of life and the overall health of a lot of people.”

During his REU, Barnett had the opportunity to do everything from testing and manufacturing electrodes to making samples and conducting literature reviews. Through that experience, he’s learned crucial lessons about the research process. 

“I think learning the basics of research and how to make sure you go about conducting an ethical and reproducible experiment definitely helped me a lot,” he says. 

However, Barnett isn’t the only one who benefited from the REU. Ju says working with Reid helped him see his research in a new way. 

“He gave me some creative ideas to explore new things that I had not expected before or predicted,”Ju, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in fiber and polymer science, says. “Also, I learned some leadership from this program as far as how to give them some work, or to let them know how to do something, research.” 

Two students in e-textiles lab

Advancing Available Heating Technology

If you’ve experienced a harsh winter or have a loved one with arthritis, you’re probably familiar with heating gloves, but do you know what causes them to warm up? 

Senior Molly Pruett and Ph.D. student Caitlin Knowles do. They spent the summer analyzing the technology inside heating gloves available to the average consumer — from high end to inexpensive. 

“I inspect them, which is a very nice way of saying that I break them down to their components and analyze these components for effectiveness, as well as what types of technology they’re using,” Pruett, a polymer and color chemistry student, says. “I created a cross section of this market, and to the best of my knowledge, this is what technology in this cutting edge field looks like.”

Pruett then translated this information into videos that explain the differences in these gloves. What she’s found is that the technology in your gloves is far from the technology in the lab. In fact, most of it was developed in the 1980s. 

“A lot of the technology is kind of similar across the board. It just depends on the actual materials of the fabric,” she says. “The technology components aren’t all that different across the different price points.”

Caitlin Knowles is dedicating a portion of her dissertation in fiber and polymer science to determining the state-of-the-art in the e-textile field and how it can be advanced. She says the challenge lies in how to produce this new e-textile technology at a manufacturing scale in a way that’s both reliable and economical. 

“The research I’m doing is lab-based enough that industry members are excited about it, but it’s not so advanced that they hear about it and say, ‘Oh, no, we can never actually do that. That’s totally unrealistic,” Knowles says. “I love being able to see the science that we’re doing in full prototypes.”

She says Pruett’s help over the summer was invaluable in allowing her to focus on the fabrication and simulation part of her research. 

From her REU, Pruett has not only further developed her scientific communication skills but also gained a more holistic understanding of textile science and formed new connections. 

“There’s been a really awesome sense of community,” she says. “So everybody is supported, everybody’s listened to.”

She says she wrapped up her REU with more questions than answers. She did answer one big question, though — What’s next? Pruett plans to pursue a Ph.D. at the Wilson College once she graduates. 

“There are questions that I have developed in this lab that I’ll be working on answering for the next six years, which is awesome to say because it means that there’s a gap in the research.”

Help Provide Opportunities for Students

Grants and the generosity of faculty made this summer’s expanded TECS REU program at Wilson College possible. Additional funding will be necessary in order for this level of programming to return next year. If you want to contribute to the valuable experiential learning of the next generation of textile industry leaders, please donate to the TECS Enhancement Fund.