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Smart yarn

December 2019: Flexible, electrochemically, and electromechanically active yarns could allow for the scalable production of textile-based devices. Such smart garments have a wide range of applications from public health to military defence and could produce clothing that responds to outside conditions while retaining wearability


Researchers have been exploring ways to add conductivity into functional fabric devices. A team has developed a new dip-coating method to transform basic cellulose-based yarn into ‘smart yarn’ by coating it with a conductive two-dimensional material. The material is strong enough to be used in industrial knitting machines, endures multiple wash cycles without degrading, and avoids using carbon materials – such as graphene – which raise environmental concerns. This new method adds technical capabilities to the fibres while retaining the fabric’s fit, feel, and general wearability. In a similar manner, studies have been exploring ‘cooling yarns’ which use elastocaloric cooling. It is based on a new technology for refrigeration that cools by twisting and untwisting fibres.

Implications & Opportunities

Developing methods for smart yarns forms the base to produce textile-based devices. Functional wearables often use conventional batteries or hazardous material that impacts the design and limits functionality. In contrast, smart yearns could lead to the production next-generation devices that can be worn like everyday garments. This could reduce the need for different garments in different seasons and climates, thereby giving access to people in need for garments that simultaneously protect against hot and cold weather. Such garments find applicability in people’s everyday life but are also of special interest to military and other security groups. The technology finds further applicability in developing ‘cooling’ garments to address rising needs for air conditioning, textile pressure sensors that could be used in sports apparel to monitor performance, carpet fibres in connected houses, or fibres for car seats to optimise safety settings based on a person’s height and weight.


The development of smart yarns remains at pre-industrial stage and further research will be needed to test scalability and feasibility for wide-spread application.


Uzun, S., Seyedin, S., Stoltzfus, A. L., Levitt, (2019). Knittable and Washable Multifunctional MXene‐Coated Cellulose Yarns. Advanced Functional Materials, 1905015. doi:10.1002/adfm.201905015

New Scientist. (2019). Heat-sensitive fabric cools you on hot days and warms you in the cold. Retrieved from

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Adele Wiliams

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The views expressed in these external research papers are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.