[Excellent R&D] Weaving Technology into the Fibers of Our Lives
Professor Bae Ji-hyun (Department of Clothing and Textiles)
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The development of smart technology has brought forth a spectacular display of new products in recent years. Under the common label "smart," smartphones, smartwatches, smart homes and other technology used to gather, process, and analyze massive amounts of data have now seeped into some of the most critical parts of our daily lives. In fact, the only limit on the ways of utilizing this technology is our imaginations. In this sense, Professor Bae Ji-hyun (Department of Clothing and Textiles) has made a new attempt to tear down another wall between smart technology and an essential component of our lives: clothing.
Introducing the clothes of the future
In essence, Bae’s research is an adaptation of wearable devices. Specifically, she aims to introduce electronic devices to our everyday clothing. Among a diverse array of available options, this research targets the field of healthcare. The idea is that by planting electronic devices in our clothes, we can codify data such as bio-signals, physical movements, or even environmental changes to monitor our health status. Generally speaking, clothing and electronic devices intuitively dawn on us as two very disparate domains. This probably has to do with the nature of clothing, which necessitates regular washing, as well as the imaginable discomfort of having metallic devices attached to our clothes. So how does Bae plan to overcome this fixation? The secret is in the fabric.
In the big picture of introducing electronic devices to clothing, Bae’s specific area of research is the development of functional fibers that can act as sensors. Furthermore, she has to design the textile organization in a way that allows it to be woven into a wearable form. By endowing fiber, the most basic unit of clothing, with the ability to react to stimuli such as light, movement, and temperature, we could use clothing to transmit, store, and analyze a variety of changes. According to Bae, the most prominent method to enable this function is by mixing conductive macromolecule particles or nano-particles in the process of weaving the fiber strands. Another common method is to coat ordinary thread, such as nylon or silk, with functional substances.
Although Bae’s research is only in its initial stage, the projected benefits of the study raise great anticipation. For one, it will bring an immense improvement to the quality of healthcare for the elderly. This is especially timely considering the growth of the elderly population in our society. Not only will smart clothes reduce the cost of healthcare for retired citizens, it will provide higher efficiency by constantly monitoring and diagnosing the state of the wearer. It can also be used to service the disadvantaged such as the monitoring of infants or people with disabilities. Bae also expressed the hope of adapting this new technology to assist the activities of people working under dangerous conditions, such as soldiers or fire fighters, to improve their safety. As previously mentioned, the ways in which the technology can be used is only limited by our imaginations.
The background story
It has only been a year since Bae was recruited as a professor at Hanyang University. Prior to the position as a professor, she worked at an electronics company. Having earned her degree in textile engineering, Bae became immersed in the relationship between textiles and electronic technology while working at the firm. “Once I saw the connection, there were so many possibilities that became obvious to me," answered Bae. Through her previous firm, she was able to participate in a government project to develop wearable devices, providing her with an insight into the prospect of the technology.
According to Bae, the hardest part of her research so far has been the novelty of the field. As is true in the case of most technologies these days, her research requires extensive collaboration with other fields. For the immediate research of smart clothes, the fields of electronic engineering and textiles are crucial. Furthermore, as the target of her research is the field of healthcare, some medical insight is also required. Other than that, convergence with a wide scope of academic fields is necessary in order to consider the subsidiary details of the research, such as the environmental impact of the product or the economic costs of commercializing the technology. However, a lack of public interest in the field makes it difficult for Bae to secure opportunities for cooperation with other fields.
Efforts as an educator
Despite the difficulties of her research, Bae confessed that the hardest part of her job is teaching students. As she had no prior experience of interacting with pupils, she devotes a significant amount of her hours to understanding the needs of her students. “I believe that my current priority is to figure out how to be a good professor to my students,” added Bae. Bae wants to encourage students to maintain an open attitude when communicating with others. “Even in joint research, you need to have respect for others’ expertise in their respective fields, as well as an open mind to approach a common problem from diverse directions.” Bae argued that the same holds true for human interaction, which is an important lesson to take to heart when entering society. In the end, she believes that the synergy created from interactions and convergence is what provides us with the momentum to grow.
Lee Chang-hyun firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Lee Jin-myung
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