Techniques to print metal onto fabrics typically entail coating the fabric with plastic, rendering it waterproof and brittle. New technology from Imperial College London allows metal inks to cover entire fibers rather than simply coating the surface of the fabric. The ability to print silver, gold and other metals onto A) Scanning electron microscope images show silver metallization during Si ink-enabled autocatalytic metallization of paper. Optical characterization shows metals have been deposited throughout fabric microstructures, with B) gold in paper and C) silver in cotton textile. Source: Imperial College LondonA) Scanning electron microscope images show silver metallization during Si ink-enabled autocatalytic metallization of paper. Optical characterization shows metals have been deposited throughout fabric microstructures, with B) gold in paper and C) silver in cotton textile. Source: Imperial College Londonnatural fabrics could lead to low-cost medical diagnostic tools, wirelessly powered sticker-sensors to track air pollution or clothing with health monitoring capabilities.

The fibers are covered in microscopic particles of silicon (Si) and then submerged into a solution containing metal ions. This silicon ink-enabled autocatalytic metallization allows metals to penetrate the material as the ions are deposited on silicon particles. By distributing metal throughout the fabric and forming a large metallic surface, paper and textiles maintain water absorption and flexibility.

The technique was demonstrated by engineering silver coil antennas on paper, which can be used for data and power transmission in wireless devices. A battery was also designed by depositing silver and zinc onto paper, and different sensors were fabricated as well, including a paper-based device to detect genetic markers of a disease fatal to grazing animals. Rough metallic nanoparticle surfaces were also tested as a plasmonic-sensing substrate for surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy.

The metallic fabrics produced are highly conductive, electrocatalytic, hydrophilic, flexible, porous and ultralow cost. A research paper is published in Advanced Functional Materials.

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