Researchers at the University of Georgia have recently developed new way to manufacture extraordinarily thin polymer strings commonly known as nanofibers. This new method of manufacturing nanofibers is meant to be inexpensive as well as offers a lot of flexibility. Nonofibers can be made from natural or human-made materials, including biodegradable substances.
Nanofibers are many thousands of times thinner than the average human hair and are widely used in medical researches. They can be used to create advanced wound dressings and materials to stimulate tissue regeneration, drug testing, stem cell therapies and for the delivery of drugs directly to the site of infection. However, they can also be applied in other industries as well, for example, to manufacture fuel cells, batteries, filters and light-emitting screens. Therefore, easy and cheap manufacturing process is really important for many industries and scientific researches.
The new manufacturing process, called “magnetospinning”, is thought to be a very simple, scalable and safe mean for producing very large quantities of nanofibers. Furthermore, scientists themselves say that this process makes it possible to create high quality nanofibers without expensive equipment. Currently, the most popular method of manufacturing nanofibers is electrospinning, which uses high-voltage electricity and specially designed equipment to produce the polymer strings. Operating this equipment requires a special training and care.
Magnetospinning is thought to be much simpler. One of the co-authors of the study, Sergiy Minko, described it saying that “Essentially, all you need is a magnet, a syringe and a small motor”. In a smaller scale in the laboratory this simple setup is capable of producing spools containing hundreds of yards of nanofibers in a matter of seconds. However, the method is scalable and could be used in industry as well.
Despite being a very simple and cost-effective method, it is still very fascinating to see how simple solutions work in hands of experienced scientists. Melted or liquefied polymer is mixed with biocompatible iron oxide or another magnetic material and placed inside a hypodermic needle. Then it is placed near a magnet that is fixed atop a spinning circular platter – a droplet of the polymer fluid stretches out and attaches to the magnet, forming a nanofiber string that winds around the platter as it continues to spin.
Droplet of melted or liquefied polymer is attracted by spinning magnet and stretched to form a high-quality nanofiber.
This device, while spinning at 1,000 rpm, can create about 50 kilometres of ultra-thin nanofiber a minute. Quality is said to be just as high as of ninofiber produced using other methods, however, it is much safer method, since no high voltages are involved. This method is also extremely flexible – scientists can use this method to create a variety of nanofibers simply by changing the polymer placed in the syringe.
There is variety of polymers and other materials can be used. Magnetospinning allows scientists to create nanofibers than can be loaded with proteins, nanotubes, fluorescent materials and therapeutic agents. The researchers say that the process is as creative as cooking – changing the ingredients may help to create different nanofibers for different applications.
Nano technologies are very important part of direction of new researches, as they help to create both medical treatments as well as every day devices. Simple and cheap manufacturing methods can only support new discoveries and developments of nanofiber technology.