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Posted: January 23, 2007
Nanotechnology brings new applications to textiles
(Nanowerk News) What do a possible iPod replacement, radiation protection and cars have in common? Textiles is the right answer. These are all current and future possible applications where textiles blend with technology.
And much of it is already here. Researchers in the College of Textiles at North Carolina State University are working on integrating technology with textiles in ways that can boggle the imagination.
Russel Gorga, an assistant professor of fiber and polymer science in the college of textiles, said researchers are working on multiple fronts. They include processes and finishes for fibers and fabrics that are environment-friendly, materials and processes to create textiles with extraordinary physical properties, color perception technologies and even creating anti-microbial fabrics. Most of these areas and applications involve nanotechnology.
"In my group we use carbon nanotubes to enhance mechanical, electrical and thermal properties of conventional and nanofibers," he said. "We have been collaborating with the Biomedical Engineering and Physics departments to develop tissue engineering scaffolds for cell growth and differentiation."
Kelly Stano, a sophomore in textile engineering, works with Gorga on related projects.
"My last project involved the use of polymers to create scaffolds for tissue engineering," she said.
Stano points out the polymer used in the project, named poly-lactic acid, is interesting because it is created from corn products, and hence biodegradable. This compares to other commonly used polymers which are petroleum-based.
The carbon nanotubes are used to make the textiles conductive, which equates to having electricity running through the textiles/scaffolds.
"We were working on tissue generation, and unlike other tissue types, we need electricity to create bone tissue," Stano said.
Gorga elaborated a nanofiber mesh is created with nanotubes inside it. These nanotubes add strength to the scaffold and allow electron flows to stimulate cell growth.
Stano's current project involves creating films for radiation protection for use by people in the field -- such as armed forces and police forces. These films are applied as a top layer over clothes to provide the necessary protection.
Researchers are using specific chemistry concepts to enable textiles to sense hazardous environments and to respond to the hazards via a neutralizing process, Gorga said.
As for other research in N.C. State, "another professor in the field works on replicating synovial fluid -- the fluid between your joints," Stano said.
Also, other polymers are used in the field, such as "chitosan," which is derived from sea-shells and hence is biodegradable.
"Undergraduates are also involved in research and writing papers and not just graduate students," Stano said.
In her view, research groups within the United States are at the forefront of developing the high-end applications.
The applications from the integration of technology and textiles have uses in today's world -- these are not just for futuristic applications, according to Gorga.
"In first-responder gear, they are able to save lives," he said.
Advanced textiles do include something as simple as anti-microbial wipes and wrinkle and stain-resistant fabrics.
"In the future, interactive fabrics that can function as electronic devices (replacing the iPod, for example) and sensors are possible," Gorga said.
Stano sees circuits integrated into fabrics in the future to function as heart-rate monitors and blood pressure sensors.
"Close to 70 percent of cars involve materials from textiles engineering research," she said. "Medical practitioners are protected against dangerous bacteria by fabrics that are created from such research."
Many biomedical applications have developed and are continuing development. These are things such as sutures, artificial arteries and tissue scaffolds, according to Gorga.
In his opinion, new areas will include smart fibers and fabrics that can respond to the environment or stimuli. Also, anti-microbial research will have great implications for medical and personal use.
"Most of the Star Wars-like applications will be over a decade away, but much of the anti-bacterial and stain resistant stuff is either currently available, or will be in the immediate future," he said. Stano would also like to change the popular conceptions of textiles research.
"When people usually think about textiles, the first things that come to mind are clothes and curtains," she said.
In her view, research in textile engineering is far beyond just fabrics.