TT: What is microfluidics?
Microfluidics is the area of science and technology which studies the behaviour, precise control, and manipulation of small volumes of fluids, typically in the range of microlitres (µL) to millilitres (mL). It involves using microscale channels and reservoirs to control and manipulate fluids and has a wide range of applications in various fields, including biomedicine, biology, chemistry, and engineering.
TT: What is the significance of microfluidic devices?
The significance of a microfluidic device is beyond imagination, and it’s like the computers were in the 1980s. Research interest in microfluidic devices is growing, but the most significant interest comes from the industry. It enables compact design of complete laboratory on a chip.
TT: How can microfluidics be integrated into textiles to create smart textiles?
One way that microfluidics can be integrated into textiles is by embedding microfluidic channels and reservoirs into the fabric itself. This can be achieved through a variety of methods, such as weaving, knitting, or printing the microfluidic channels onto the fabric. The microfluidic channels can then be used to transport fluids, such as sweat or other bodily fluids, through the fabric for analysis or other purposes.
Smart textiles are fabrics that have been engineered to have specific functionalities, such as the ability to sense and respond to stimuli, or to perform specific tasks. By integrating microfluidics into the textiles, it is possible to create smart textiles that can perform a wide range of functions, such as monitoring and analysing bodily fluids, controlling temperature and humidity, or even delivering medications or other substances to the skin.
There are many potential applications for microfluidic textiles, including in the fields of healthcare, fitness and wellness, and military and outdoor clothing. The development of microfluidic textiles is an active area of research and there are many exciting possibilities for the future of this technology.
TT: What can these smart textiles be used for?
Smart textiles are textiles that have been designed to have some kind of advanced functionality, such as the ability to sense and respond to stimuli, or to perform specific tasks. Some potential applications for smart textiles include:
1. Wearable technology: Smart textiles can be used to create clothing and other wearables that have built-in sensors, displays, or other electronic components. For example, a smart shirt could have sensors that monitor an individual’s heart rate, breathing rate, and other vital signs, and transmit this information to a smartphone or other device for analysis.
2. Military and outdoor gear: Smart textiles can be used to create clothing and equipment for military and outdoor use that can withstand extreme conditions, such as cold or heat, and that can provide protection from the elements. For example, a smart jacket could have insulation that adjusts to the wearer’s body temperature to keep them warm, or a smart tent could have sensors that detect the weather and adjust its structure accordingly.
3. Healthcare: Smart textiles can be used to create clothing and other products that can monitor and track an individual’s health and wellness. For example, a smart bra could have sensors that detect breast cancer, or a smart sock could have sensors that monitor an individual’s gait and provide feedback on their posture.
4. Sports and fitness: Smart textiles can be used to create clothing and equipment for sports and fitness that can track and improve an individual’s performance. For example, a smart running shoe could have sensors that monitor an individual’s running form and provide feedback on their stride, or a smart yoga mat could have sensors that detect an individual’s posture and provide guidance on how to improve their alignment.
There are many other potential applications for smart textiles, and research in this area is ongoing.
TT: Please tell me about your research project STRENTEX and its applications.
The STRENTEX project is funded by the European Commission within the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and set in the framework of the ERA Chairs action. The main idea of the STRENTEX project is to create a Center of gravity, here in Novi Sad, Serbia, for cutting-edge research in the field of Stretchable and Textile electronics. In order to reach a peak of real excellence in this scientific domain we have established an international and multidisciplinary team, led by our ERA Chair holder. We have also created a well-equipped laboratory to support the transfer of our innovative ideas into application-oriented prototypes and products, for the benefit of our society.
TT: Can microfluidics and textile electronics go from lab to market? Are there any such products already available in the market? If yes, please share some details.
Yes, microfluidics and textile electronics have the potential to go from the lab to the market, and there are already a number of products that have been developed using these technologies.
Microfluidics has a wide range of applications, including in the fields of healthcare, drug delivery, environmental monitoring, and food and beverage processing, among others. There are already a number of commercial products on the market that incorporate microfluidic technology, such as diagnostic test kits and drug delivery devices.
Textile electronics refers to the integration of electronic components into textiles or other flexible materials. Smart textiles are one type of textile electronics, and there are already a number of commercial products on the market that incorporate textile electronics, such as smart clothing and wearable fitness trackers.
TT: What are the challenges in scaling and manufacturing such products?
There are a number of challenges that need to be overcome in order to scale and manufacture microfluidic and textile electronic products for mass markets. Some of these challenges include:
1. Robustness and reliability: Microfluidic and textile electronic systems can be sensitive to environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, and mechanical stress. It can be challenging to design systems that are robust and reliable enough to withstand the wear and tear of everyday use, especially when they are being used in a wide range of different environments.
2. Power and control: Many microfluidic and textile electronic systems require power in order to operate, and this power must be provided in a way that is reliable, efficient, and easy to use. In addition, these systems often need to be controlled using external devices such as pumps or valves, and it can be challenging to design systems that are easy to control and that have a long operational lifespan.
3. Cost: Microfluidic and textile electronic systems can be expensive to develop and manufacture, especially when they are being produced on a large scale. It can be challenging to find ways to reduce the cost of these systems without sacrificing performance or reliability.
4. Safety and security: Microfluidic and textile electronic systems can be used to handle sensitive materials such as chemicals, drugs, or biological samples, and it is important to ensure that these systems are safe and secure to use. This can involve designing systems that are resistant to tampering or accidental release of materials, as well as ensuring that they are safe for the environment.
5. Regulatory compliance: Microfluidic and textile electronic systems may be subject to a range of regulatory requirements, depending on the application and the location in which they are being used. It can be challenging to ensure that these systems meet all relevant regulatory standards, and to navigate the complex regulatory landscape in which they operate.
TT: What new innovations and technologies in the realm of textiles are you working towards?
The STRENTEX team developed the following textile-based inventions:
• Respiration monitoring system with embroidered sensor on protective face mask for detection of lung capacity, which is especially important and valuable in pandemics such as COVID-19
• Portable heating and temperature monitoring system with a textile heater embroidered on the face mask, which can heat air before inhalation and at the same time can kill some viruses before breathing
• Textile patches which can treat warts at home using hyperthermia
• Smart bandage which can monitor the wounds through continuous measurement of wounds exudate or accidental wetting through perspiration or water
• Sensors manufactured from unconventional materials such as dental flosses
• Fully textile-antenna designed for RF (radio frequency) harvesting and a short-range communication system
• Textile conductive lines under different connector configurations
• Musical honeybee toy for children that is totally textile-based.
TT: What, according to you, is the future of textiles?
Besides the areas we are working on, together with the others from the science community, the future of textiles includes:
● Self-healing textiles: The development of self-healing materials and techniques for textiles could lead to the creation of clothing and other products that have a longer lifespan and require less maintenance. This could potentially reduce waste and limit consumption, and lead to cost savings for consumers.
● Bio-inspired textiles: Scientists are studying the structures and properties of natural materials, such as spider silk and butterfly wings, in order to develop new synthetic materials with similar characteristics. These materials could have a wide range of applications, including in textiles, aerospace, and medical devices.
● Advanced manufacturing techniques: Researchers are developing new manufacturing techniques for textiles, such as 3D printing and nanofabrication, in order to create complex structures and patterns that were not previously possible. These techniques could lead to the development of new textiles with improved performance and functionality.
(Interviewer: Shilpi Panjabi)