Professors Jessica Schiffman and Sarah Perry of our Chemical Engineering Department have developed nanofiber fabrics that are green and non-toxic and can be used in medical, environmental, personal care, and food packaging applications, according to an article from the UMass News Office that recaps a story posted in July by the College of Engineering. The research is supported by a three-year, $338,180 grant from the National Science Foundation. See entire News Office Story: Chemical Engineers Develop Green, Non-Toxic Nanofiber Fabrics for a Wide Range of Uses.
Schiffman and Perry say the key to their research is thinking differently about polymers, writes Patrick Callahan of the UMass News Office. While traditional methods of making polymer-based fibers require the use of toxic organic solvents, this new approach uses polymers that assemble to form fibers from a solution of water and salt. The resultant fibers are highly stable even if exposed to high temperatures or submerged in organic solvents.
The News Office story explains that the existing method for making nanofibers is based on a process known as “electrospinning,” in which an electrical force is used to “draw” charged threads of polymer solutions into solid nanoscale fibers, which then cluster to form a soft, flexible fabric. However, the use of such nanofiber fabrics is sharply limited because of the potential for residual toxic chemicals in the final product. By using this new non-toxic, environmentally friendly approach, Schiffman and Perry say they will vastly expand the potential uses for the fabrics.
“This is a fundamental game-changer,” Schiffman says. Perry adds that the new method for creating the nanofibers “opens whole new fields of research and applications.” (October 2017)
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