Update: Indeed, a UCLA scientist tells us the stretchable LEDs will one day be used for clothing, and — exceeding our most rave-tastic expectations — be able to “display videos.” Details after the jump.

Originally posted at 12:35 p.m.

When UCLA scientists unveiled a fine new discovery in the field of “stretchable electronics” last week, they likely pitched it harder to medical circles than L.A.'s expanding plurr community.

But we think this stuff is poised to be the next spirit hood or shaggy leg warmer at megaraves across SoCal. At least we hope so; the costumes at Hard Summer on Saturday night were the most unimaginative batch of Electric Daisy Carnival leftovers we never could have hoped for…

… Though that could have had something to do with the sweeping ban on anything shiny or indicative of rave culture. (That way, officials could pretend no one was on E. Ha!) But once the newest “wearable electronics” out of UCLA hit the mainstream market, the hasty dress-code regulators at the entrance gates will have no choice but to usher intrinsically lit-up ravers right on through.

All thanks to science! The UCLA press office explains:

Today's conventional inorganic electronic devices are brittle, and while they have a certain flexibility achieved using ultrathin layers of inorganic materials, these devices are either flexible, meaning they can be bent, or they are stretchable, containing a discrete LED chip interconnected with stretchable electrodes. But they lack “intrinsic stretchabilty,” in which every part of the device is stretchable.

Now, researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have demonstrated for the first time an intrinsically stretchable polymer light-emitting device.

It's a big step up from the makeshift glowstick bodysuits and stiff LED T-shirts we're used to (read: super sick of) seeing at raves.

We're no scientists, but UCLA's new “metal-free devices,” which can be stretched to about 50 percent of their resting size, sound like the perfect building blocks of a glowing full-body catsuit:

Because the devices are fabricated by roll lamination of two composite electrodes that sandwich an emissive polymer layer, they uniquely combine mechanical robustness and the ability for large-strain deformation, due to the shape-memory property of the composite electrodes. This development will provide a new direction for the field of stretchable electronics.

We've contacted the study's authors for more insight into what this could become, on the costuming front. But here's a riveting three-second video to hold you over until the dreamwear becomes a reality and Hard glows good again:

Update: UCLA professor Qibing Pei, who invented the flexible light-up plastics with a team of post-doc students, tells us that glowing clothes were definitely a motivating factor behind the research. (Guess we were wrong to assume serious medical breakthroughs are the only thing on a UCLA nerd's brain.)

Pei says that because the entire synthetic system is stretchable, including the LEDs, this exciting new technology will one day allow ravers (or whoever) to “display videos” on their clothing. And that — no matter your position on Ecstasy-fueled LED culture — is the raddest thing ever.

The main obstacle left to conquer, Pei says, is “packaging.”

In tests, the material he and his team used to sandwich the LED chip was “quite air-sensitive. It will not last long. We tested it in controlled environment.”

In the future, in order for it to be used in clothing, Pei says the light “will have to be sealed with other materials that provide a better barrier to oxygen… and moisture.”

Because any good researcher knows that any good rave is, in a word, moist.


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