A team of researchers has developed a new light-emitting fiber than could be woven into fabrics, providing flexible smart fabrics than can illuminate themselves.

The fibers use a stainless steel wire core, which is coated with a thin layer of ZnO nanoparticles and then wrapped in electroluminescent polymer. Finally, a transparent coating of carbon nanotubes is applied. The resulting millimeter-diameter fibers are effectively long, thin polymer light-emitting electrochemical cells.

In tests the devices worked for several hours, glowing either bright blue or yellow. But in theory these devices could last for thousands of hours—and yes, other colors should be possible, too. The light gets thrown out in all directions, so it can be seen from any angle, and they also consume less power then conventional LEDs.

The researchers claim that the fibers are lightweight and highly flexible, which means it should be possible to easily incorporate them into fabrics. Indeed, the team, from Fudan University in Shanghai, suggest that they could "be woven into light-emitting clothes for the creation of smart fabrics." This could be the fabric the 80s always needed.

Currently, though, the fibers are too short and delicate to be woven into fabrics at commercial scale. If their resilience can be increased and diameter reduced, it's possible to imagine a fabric densely woven with the fibers that could appear invisible, suggests Engadget, by emitting the right patterns of light. But let's not get ahead of ourselves: for now, they're the itty bitty glow sticks that science always wanted us to have. [Nature Photonics via Spectrum IEEE via Engadget]