Stretchable mesh heater can be used for thermal therapy

South Korean scientists create a thin battery-powered mesh made from silver nanowires that generate heat so users can “wrap” therapeutic heat around body parts.

South Korean researchers have developed a stretchable mesh heater which could allow people to efficiently use thermal therapy as part of their daily lives.

Thermal therapy also called heat therapy, is used to treat a range of ailments including muscle pains and stuff joints. But effectively applying heat to certain body parts, such as the knee or elbow, can be tricky to do especially when at home or one the move. The scientists from Seoul believe they have come up with a flexible and effective way for people to use heat therapy without the need for hospital visits.

“We created this so people can get treatment for longer and more comfortably in their daily lives. It is very inconvenient to go to the hospital and people can only be treated for a very short time. However, if you wear this heater, people can get thermal therapy for longer and much easier,” said Professor Kim Dae-hyeong, a researcher at Institute for Basic Science (IBS) and Seoul National University.

The stretchable heater, which consists of thin silver nanowires and a conductive thermoplastic elastomer, can emit sufficient heat with low-powered battery.

“There are lots of networked silver nanowires inside of conductive rubber. It has very high conductivity so that it can reach at 40 to 45 (Celsius) degree with a voltage of 1V,” Kim said.

The researchers created a ‘serpentine’ mesh design with an interlocking coil pattern to keep it firmly in place when applied to a body part. The tiny silver nanowires were mixed with the liquid elastic material before being poured into a shaping mold. This was then placed between layers of soft, thin insulation.

“It is stretchable and can stick to skin easily even if people make some movement. That’s why the heat can transfer from skin to blood vessels well,” Kim added.

The research team is now working on making a more advanced stretchable heater that is more effective and energy efficient. They are also exploring a range of potential industrial applications for the technology.

“We’re focusing on making lower resistance and low power technology. Furthermore, we’re trying to make this so it can be used not only for treatment but in various industrial fields; such as automobile, semiconductors and display devices,” Kim said.

The research, led by the Institute of Basic Science, was published in the journal ACS Nano in May.

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