Surface technology

Tiny plastic fibers could be the key to some diverse technologies in the future — including self-cleaning surfaces, transparent electronics, and Bio-medical tools that manipulate strands of DNA.

In the recent issue of the journal Nature Nanotechnology, US researchers from Ohio State University described how they created surfaces that when seen with the eye look as flat and transparent as a sheet of glass. But seen up close, the surfaces are actually carpeted with tiny fibers.

The patent-pending technology involves a method for growing a bed of fibers of a specific length, and using chemical treatments to tailor the fibers’ properties according to a professor and director at the university’s Institute for Magnetic and Electronic Polymers.

One of the good things about working with these polymers is that you’re able to structure them in many different ways Plus it was found that it can be coated almost any surface with these fibers.

In their research the scientists grew fibers of different heights and diameters, and exposed them to different chemicals.

They devised one treatment that made the fibers attract water, and another that made them repel water. They found they found they could also make the surfaces attract or repel oil.

Depending on what polymer they started with, the fibers could also be made to conduct electricity.

The ability to tailor the properties of the fibers opens the surface to many different applications. Since dirt, water, and oil don’t stick to the repellent fibers, windows coated with them would stay cleaner longer.

In contrast, the attracting fibers would make a good anti-fog coating, because they pull at water droplets and cause them to spread out flat on the surface.

What’s more, the attracting surface did the same thing to coil up strands of DNA. When they put droplets of water containing DNA on the fibers, the strands uncoiled and hung suspended from the fibers like clotheslines.

Scientists could use the fibers as a platform to study how DNA interacts with other molecules. They could also use the spread-out DNA to build new nanostructures. It is very exciting to researchers and potential users about this kind of development can which can cater to a number of applications.

Depending on the choice of polymer, the nano-fibre surface can also conduct electricity. The Researchers were able to use the surface to charge an organic light-emitting device – a find that could pave the way for transparent plastic electronics.

Finally, they also found that the fibers could be used to control the flow of water in micro-fluidic devices.

The University will license the technology, and Epstein and his colleagues are looking for new application for it.

Aside from anti-fog windows self-cleaning windows and organic LED, the surfaces working in other diversified fields such as “gene therapy devices and artificial muscles” is foreseen.