Cristy Burne

Author, editor, science writer

Lost your phone charger? Why not wear it?

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Dr Shayan Seyedin with some fibres of MXene

I lost my phone charger, again.

I was alone in the house, running from room to room helplessly picking up bits of lost laundry and shifting bits of important-but-also-lost paper.

And I was sweating. Badly. Because I neeeeeded my phone.

And then I had this idea:

What if you could wear your phone charger, like, as part of your shirt or something? This idea is gold. A killer. Pure genius. Wearable electronics chargers. All it needs is for someone to invent it.

Lucky for me, it’s already being done. Unlucky for me, it’s a fair wait away yet.

So, while I run around the house searching for my charger, why not check out this article (below) that I wrote for Crinkling News.

It’s about dissecting blow dryers, sheets of atoms, and wearable chargers. How cool would that be!?!?!

Blow dryers, persistence and wearable electronics

When Dr Shayan Seyedin was a kid, he liked taking things apart and putting them back together, but things didn’t always work out how he intended.

“I bought a blow dryer for my hair, but it wasn’t fast enough for me,” he says. “So I changed the low-power DC motor to an AC motor…but then it was blowing too much air, so it wasn’t hot enough.”

He decided to upgrade the heating element. “That wasn’t a great idea, it overheated and each time the whole dryer would turn off.” So he made more changes. By the time he’d finished, his hairdryer was so powerful it would interfere with TV reception. “My dad used to shout ‘turn that vacuum cleaner off,’” he grins.

The lessons learned from trying and failing as a kid are important now in his research, Dr Seyedin says. “It’s all about constantly improving,” he says.

Today, that’s exactly what he does: Dr Seyedin is a researcher at Deakin University’s Institute for Frontier Materials.

MXenes, graphene and your pencil

Two-dimensional materials are the thinnest materials known.

  • MXene (pronounced “max-een”) was discovered in 2011. It’s made from several layers of carbon and titanium atoms, all joined together into sheets.
  • Graphene was discovered in 2004. It’s similar to MXene, but made from a single layer of pure carbon atoms. It’s super-light, great at conducting electricity and 100 times stronger than steel. However, graphene fibres aren’t as good as MXene at storing energy.
  • You can see graphene when you use a pencil: the mark your pencil makes as it slides across the page is made from many thousands of layers of graphene. When this much graphene is in one place, we call it graphite.

Stand back, old-fashioned batteries

You can see a sheet of paper, but you can’t see a sheet of MXene. It’s tens of thousands of times thinner than a full stop.

But if you cram thousands of MXene sheets into a tub of clear liquid, you might see a dark green shimmer. And if you force these thousands of sheets through a space as small as the eye of a needle, you’ll see something truly incredible come out the other side: a flexible fibre.

Why would you bother? Because MXene is terrific at conducting electricity and storing energy. Stand back, old-fashioned batteries. Make way for wearable, chargeable electronics.

Taking charge

The outfit you’re wearing right now is probably woven using thousands of ordinary fibres. But who wants ordinary? “I thought that if we made fibres out of MXene, we could make fibres with energy-storing properties,” says Dr Seyedin.

However, MXene is tricky to spin into fibres. The individual sheets just slide apart, like piled-up sheets of paper.

After three years of trying, Dr Seyedin solved this problem. He discovered that by forcing thousands of MXene sheets through a small space, you can join the sheets together. Like crumpling sheets of paper into a ball, you end up with a solid, three-dimensional material.

If you keep pushing MXene through the space, it crumples into long, thin MXene fibres, a bit like making spaghetti.

171165-shayan-seyedin-031smMXing out

Dr Seyedin found that MXene fibres can trap lots of charge in the many tiny spaces created by crumpling the thousands of layers. When you use the fibre to power something, these trapped charges flow out of the fibre and into your device. Recharging the fibre is the same as recharging any other battery.

Wearable future

Using just three fibres, each around a few centimetres long, Dr Shayan Seyedin can power an LED light for fifteen minutes. “These fibres are tiny, we’re talking about one single fibre on a shirt, not the whole shirt,” he says. He’s already imagining what can be done with an entire shirt.

“The next stage will be transforming the small fibres into actual wearable articles of clothing…pants pockets, wristbands or shirt patches that are capable of storing energy and charging devices.”

And maybe, just maybe, we can do away with our phone chargers…forever!!!!




Author: cristyburne


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