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Wearable computers: Marty McFly, meet your jacket

Clothing will not just be embedded with devices, but actually will be devices, from belly band fetal monitors to shirts that charge your cell phone to dresses that release insecticide on command.

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"We like to create materials that perform a function," said Juan Hinestroza, an associate professor of fiber science and the director of the Textiles Nanotechnology Lab at Cornell University.

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To do this, Hinestroza and his colleagues work with fibers, such as cotton, on very small scales — controlling one atom at a time.

"I want to force cotton to do what cotton normally does not do," Hinestroza said.

At this molecular level, scientists can coat cotton fibers with nanoparticles — gold ones, for instance — and then manipulate the interactions between matter and light in the spaces between the particles. To demonstrate, Hinestroza displayed pictures of a brown and blue dress that had not been produced with any pigments or dyes. Instead, the colors on the dress were created by controlling characteristics of individual particles that had been added onto the fibers.

And that's just the beginning. Hinestroza's students are working on a variety of innovative projects, ranging from garments embedded with solar cells that can charge electronic devices to fabrics that can release insecticides to protect against malaria outbreaks in mosquito-infested countries.

And as technologies improve, the sky is seemingly the limit.

"It's the wave of the moment, so we'll see how we can all take it and make what we can of it all," Dion said.

Follow Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow. Follow LiveScience @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.com.

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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