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Nano-style sheets may aid health, shield ecosystem

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Posted August 13, 2015

Microscopically, “nanomembrane” sheets made from nylon resemble a tangled web. The tiny iron oxide particles on the fiber surfaces can help clean toxic chemicals from water, but if the particles get separated from the web, they can become hazards themselves.

In a new study, Cornell researchers examined these special nylon sheets – replete with applied nanoscale iron oxide particles – to see if the particles wash loose.

Jason Koski/University Photography Nidia Trejo, a doctoral student in fiber science, conducts research in the laboratory of Margaret Frey. Both Trejo and Frey evaluated particle retention and stability on nanomembrane sheets.

Jason Koski/University Photography
Nidia Trejo, a doctoral student in fiber science, conducts research in the laboratory of Margaret Frey. Both Trejo and Frey evaluated particle retention and stability on nanomembrane sheets.

The particles work like magnets to capture bacteria and viruses, and to extract chemicals or dye molecules out of water. Membranes with these particles attached could be used in devices to detect water contamination or in filters to remove chemicals or dyes from industrial waste. However, to be effective and safe, the particles need to stay on the membrane. The study evaluated the nanoparticle treatment uniformity and particle retention of the nylon membranes as they were processed (or washed) in solutions of varying pH levels.

“It’s critical to evaluate particle retention and stability on fibers to reduce human health and environmental concerns,” said Nidia Trejo, a Cornell doctoral student in the field of fiber science. Trejo, who with Margaret Frey, professor of fiber science, authored the study, “A comparative study on electrosprayed, layer-by-layer, and chemically grafted nanomembranes loaded with iron oxide nanoparticles,” in the Journal of Applied Polymer Science.

The nanomembrane sheet structure looks like a dryer sheet but is made from layers of tiny, randomly oriented fibers that only can be seen with electron microscopes. These nanomembranes have a high surface-to-volume ratio, which enhances the material’s function.

Under a microscope, Nylon-6 fibers comprise nanomembrane sheets.

Under a microscope, Nylon-6 fibers comprise nanomembrane sheets.

Manufacturing methods vary depending on the liquid environments in which the membranes would be used. Adhering nanoparticles of iron oxide to nylon fiber is done in three ways: electrospraying, which facilitates uniform nanoparticle placement in the fibers; layer-by-layer assembly, where particles are coated on the fiber electrostatically; or chemical bonding.

“For the membrane, it’s important to evaluate particle retention and stability,” Trejo explained. “You would want the nanoparticles to stay on the Nylon 6 membranes so the material can have function throughout the life use. If the material is used for wastewater treatment applications, you wouldn’t want the particles themselves to become pollutants if are they releasing from the membranes and into the water.”

Source: Cornell University

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