Mighty Nanofibers Could Mean Stronger, Lighter Materials

Jan 31, 2007
Mighty Nanofibers Could Mean Stronger, Lighter Materials
Nanofiber cloth created in the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology laboratories.

Bigger may be better, but tinier is stronger. So say scientists at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, who have shown that tiny polymer nanofibers become much stronger when their diameters shrink below a certain size. Their research, published in the January issue of Nature Nanotechnology, could make possible stronger fabrics that use less material.

Professor Eyal Zussman and Dr. Oleg Gendelman of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering are the first to propose an explanation for this surprising behavior in very thin fibers.

When the researchers measured the mechanical properties of nylon nanofibers, they found the critical diameter – the diameter at which the nylon nanofiber abruptly becomes stiffer—to be approximately 500 nanometers (about as thick as a spider web strand, or 100 times thinner than a human hair). They explained the abrupt increase in stiffness by considering the molecular structure inside the polymer fiber.

According to Zussman, each polymer nanofiber is made up of countless large, complex molecules called macromolecules. Macromolecules try to align themselves when the fiber is forming, but since they are so long and tangled, it is impossible for them to sort themselves out and align uniformly throughout the entire nanofiber. As a result, the nanofiber is a patchwork of differently oriented macromolecule regions. The researchers calculated the size of these regions to be roughly the same as the critical diameter of the nanofiber (the diameter at which the fiber stiffness abruptly increases).

“When the diameter of the fiber is much larger than the size of the oriented regions, the macromolecules can move relative to one another,” says Zussman. “But as the diameter of the fiber shrinks, these oriented regions become constrained and the macromolecules are unable to easily move relative to one another. So they become stuck against each other like cars in a traffic jam, and the resulting nanofiber is much stiffer.”

Although Professor Zussman and his colleagues focused on a certain type of nanofiber, they say their basic physical idea will help scientists understand the novel physical properties of a wide range of nanofibers and other nanostructures. Practical applications include lighter protective vests and stronger fabrics.

Also participating in the research, which is part of activities of the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute at the Technion, were Dr. Arkadii Arinstein and graduate student Michael Burman.

Source: American Technion Society

Explore further: Graphene and diamonds prove a slippery combination

Related Stories

Light as puppeteer

Mar 18, 2015

Researchers at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) have demonstrated a more robust method for controlling single, micron-sized particles with light.

Recommended for you

Graphene and diamonds prove a slippery combination

2 hours ago

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory have found a way to use tiny diamonds and graphene to give friction the slip, creating a new material combination that demonstrates ...

Artificial muscles get graphene boost

May 22, 2015

Researchers in South Korea have developed an electrode consisting of a single-atom-thick layer of carbon to help make more durable artificial muscles.

How to make continuous rolls of graphene

May 21, 2015

Graphene is a material with a host of potential applications, including in flexible light sources, solar panels that could be integrated into windows, and membranes to desalinate and purify water. But all ...

Carbon nanothreads from compressed benzene

May 20, 2015

A new carbon nanomaterial – the thinnest possible one-dimensional thread that still retains a diamond-like structure – was created by the controlled, slow compression and decompression of benzene. The ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.