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Graphene Dress Hits the Catwalk

Photonics Spectra
Sep 2017
AUTUM C. PYLANT, NEWS EDITOR, autum.pylant@photonics.com

The little black dress has taken on a very different look thanks to the Nobel Prize-winning “miracle material” called graphene, which is known for its extraordinary optoelectronic properties. Graphene is a 2D material that is a superb conductor, and is 200 times stronger than steel, yet ultra-lightweight.

The Intu Trafford Centre, a popular shopping center in Manchester, England, teamed up with wearable tech company CuteCircuit and the National Graphene Institute at the University of Manchester to unveil a unique graphene-laced prototype dress that changes color and design based on the wearer’s breathing rates.

Model Bethan Sowerby wears the high-tech dress made from graphene at its unveiling at the Intu Trafford Centre in Manchester, England.

Model Bethan Sowerby wears the high-tech dress made from graphene at its unveiling at the Intu Trafford Centre in Manchester, England. Courtesy of Intu.

A band around the waist measures the wearer’s respiration via graphene-enhanced sensors. This information is then translated into color-changing, flashing LEDs that are attached to transparent, conductive graphene panels — making the invisible visible.

Shallow breathing is represented with orange and green lights, while deeper breathing appears as blue and purple. The dress can also be controlled by an app to simulate breathing patterns.

Robert Paxton, general manager of Intu Trafford Centre, told Photonics Media that the dress combines fashion and technology, and also links to the rise of wearable tech.

“We’re really excited by how this phenomena continues to grow and would love to see more fiber optics, lights and interesting designs coming through,” he said.

Graphene was first discovered in 2004 by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov, physics professors at the University of Manchester. While removing flakes from a lump of bulk graphite with sticky tape, the researchers noticed some of the flakes were thinner than others. They continued to separate the graphene fragments, creating flakes that were just one atom thick — isolating graphene for the first time.

Shallow breathing is represented with orange and green lights, and deeper breathing appears as blue and purple.

Shallow breathing is represented with orange and green lights, and deeper breathing appears as blue and purple. Courtesy of Intu.

“We created a fashion icon [that] is on display within the shopping center for our customers to come and enjoy, and we hope it also helps to inspire people,” said Paxton. “We also got to celebrate one of Manchester’s great legacies — graphene — and showcase it in a way [that] brings it to life for people who are perhaps less interested in STEM.”

The project took 18 months to complete. And, because graphene had never been used in fashion, there were a number of unknowns in creating the dress. CuteCircuit, which specializes in using smart textiles to create wearables, worked closely with scientists to create graphene sheets of a shape and size that could be used in the dress design.

“Because graphene is very much in its infancy, finding ways in which it could be incorporated into fashion was very exciting, especially to do it in such a way with beauty and functionality,” said Paxton.

As the cost of consumable electronics continues to drop, Paxton hopes it will be more affordable for the customer to buy statement pieces like their little black dress.

The dress is currently making a fashion statement at the Intu Trafford Centre for all to see. It will be showcased at Manchester’s Science Festival in October, and then displayed at the National Graphene Institute.

Lighter SideBusinesseducationEuropematerialsgrapheneLEDsopticsSensors & DetectorsConsumerintu Trafford CentreintuCute CircuitNational Graphene InstituteUniversity of Manchesterfiber opticslight sourcesAndre GeimKostya NovoselovRichard Paxtonlittle black dressgraphene dressAutum Pylant

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