Michael Rein, Valentine Dominique Favrod, Chong Hou, Tural Khudiyev, Alexander Stolyarov, Jason Cox, Chia-Chun Chung, Chhea Chhav, Marty Ellis, John Joannopoulos2 & Yoel Fink

DOI:10.1038/s41586- 018‑0390‑x


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.