For his research in the emerging field of electronic textiles, Thomas L. Martin, an associate professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was honored at the White House today as a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).

Martin is one of 20 researchers whose work is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to receive the PECASE award, which is the highest national honor for researchers in the early stages of their careers. The awards were presented during a ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building by John H. Marburger, III, science advisor to President George W. Bush and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

In 2005 Martin received a five-year NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) grant for his work in designing e-textiles — cloth interwoven with electronic components — for use as wearable computers.

In the Virginia Tech E-Textiles Lab, Martin and his colleague Mark Jones, also an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, are developing “smart” clothes that appear and feel normal but that can sense their own shapes, the wearer’s motions and the positions of the sensing elements. The primary focus of their research is potential medical applications.

Because electrical wires, sensors and actuators are woven into the fabric, e-textiles cloth can be turned into shirts, pants, hats, gloves and other clothing items equipped to monitor an impressive range of factors — from how fast and far a jogger is running to the blood pressure and heart rate of a cardiac patient.

Using a Computing Research Infrastructure grant from NSF, the researchers recently acquired an industrial loom. With the help of graduate student Meghan Quirk, who has a background in both textiles engineering and computer science, they now are weaving their own e-textiles fabrics.

Martin and Jones also are collaborating with Thurmon Lockhart, associate professor of industrial and systems engineering and director of the Locomotion Research Laboratory. This project is aimed at using e-textiles to study the human gait, and one potential outcome is clothing that could sense when an elderly or disabled wearer is in danger of falling.

“The ultimate goal of e-textiles research at Virginia Tech is to create a complete design framework that will enable novel applications that are not possible with existing e-textiles technology,” Martin said.

Martin came to Virginia Tech in 2001 after serving two years on the faculty of the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati, and his master’s and doctorate degrees from Carnegie Mellon University.