My dad had a fascination with things that are small: a compass the size of your thumbnail, six doors opening into one tiny hallway in his house—anything that could be made smaller and still be functional delighted him. Maybe that’s why a story I read recently caught my attention, and I had to track it down.
My first question when I look into a story is, “does it—or can it—use textile, or fiber, or fabric technology?” You may know by now that on this site we are rather expansive about our interpretation of “textile.” I’ll include wovens, knits and nonwovens, of course, but there are many other materials that “behave” like a textile and may be used like a more traditional textile.
Or not. We talk about the idea of using new fibrous or flexible materials often, but we also talk about using more familiar materials in new ways. Sometimes this entails large, expansive uses, such as buildings or infrastructure. This month, though, we’re pivoting and looking at “small,” which could offer another direction for highly specialized new materials.
The microfliers discussed in our feature, “Small solutions—big impact,” are made with a film, but I pressed the researcher I queried to think about whether more traditional textiles might be useful, too—or even better, if they were completely biodegradable. When you read the story, you’ll understand why that’s important. “The microfliers discussed in our feature, “Small solutions—big impact,” are made with a film, but I pressed the researcher I queried to think about whether more traditional textiles might be useful, too—or even better, if they were completely biodegradable. When you read the story, you’ll understand why that’s important.
This niche development is just one example of a “small solution” and a highly specialized functionality for a material. When thinking small, biomedical applications come to mind in particular, as well as various smart fabric devices with sensors integrated into a wearable. The U.S. Military has long had the goal of creating smaller, multi-functional devices that are far more lightweight than devices warfighters now must wear or carry. Research into smaller and more powerful devices is ongoing, and textiles are very much a part of that effort.
The obvious question, in the case of the device discussed in this feature, is what else can it do? The technology used was, of course, not developed in a vacuum, and has already been applied to fascinating research, including “wireless robots and sensors small enough to ride on the back of live insects like beetles and bumblebees,” Dr. Iyer says.
I encourage you to read Dr. Iyer’s response at the end of the feature and think of it as a challenge to the advanced functional textile industry. I see it also as an invitation to collaborate, and I look forward to hearing about more “small” advances.