Semiconductor diodes are basic building blocks of modern computation, communications and sensing1. As such, incorporating them into textile-grade fibres can increase fabric capabilities and functions2, to encompass, for example, fabric-based communications or physiological monitoring. However, processing challenges have so far precluded the realization of semiconducting diodes of high quality in thermally drawn fibres. Here we demonstrate a scalable thermal drawing process of electrically connected diode fibres. We begin by constructing a macroscopic preform that hosts discrete diodes internal to the structure alongside hollow channels through which conducting copper or tungsten wires are fed. As the preform is heated and drawn into a fibre, the conducting wires approach the diodes until they make electrical contact, resulting in hundreds of diodes connected in parallel inside a single fibre. Two types of in-fibre device are realized: light-emitting and photodetecting p–i–n diodes. An inter-device spacing smaller than 20 centimetres is achieved, as well as light collimation and focusing by a lens designed in the fibre cladding. Diode fibres maintain performance throughout ten machine-wash cycles, indicating the relevance of this approach to apparel applications. To demonstrate the utility of this approach, a three-megahertz bi-directional optical communication link is established between two fabrics containing receiver–emitter fibres. Finally, heart-rate measurements with the diodes indicate their potential for implementation in all-fabric physiological-status monitoring systems. Our approach provides a path to realizing ever more sophisticated functions in fibres, presenting the prospect of a fibre ‘Moore's law’ analogue through the increase of device density and function in thermally drawn textile-ready fibres.
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This work was supported in part by the MIT Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) through the MRSEC Program of the National Science Foundation under award number DMR-1419807 and in part by the US Army Research Laboratory and the US Army Research Office through the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, under contract number W911NF-13-D-0001, with funding provided by the Air Force Medical Services. This work was also supported by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering under Air Force Contract numbers FA8721-05-C-0002 and FA8702-15-D-0001. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. The authors express their gratitude to S. Maayani for discussions and simulations of the lensed fibre system; to D. Bono and C. Marcus for advice and support in building the fibre-based pulse measurement setup; to R. Yuan for illustration of the results presented in the manuscript; and to E. Simhon for discussions from research ideation through to its completion.
Nature thanks D. Richardson, M. Schmidt, M. Shtein and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.