Plastic nanofibers are far superior to silicon components in terms of power consumption, radiation hardness and heat dissipation. These fibers, invisible to the naked eye, could be used in future applications like transparent electronic devices, self-cleaning surfaces and biomedical tools able to manipulate strands of DNA.
The nanofibers are fibers with diameters of less than 100 nanometers, produced by interfacial polymerization and electrospinning, They are lightweight and not so hard to produce. Researchers at Ohio State University created a new type
of surface that looks flat and transparent, just like glass.
Seen under a microscope, these surfaces are in fact packed with tiny fibers, modified from the original ones, of different heights and diameters, through exposure to different chemical compounds.
The new, patent-pending technology uses chemical treatments to alter the properties and structures of the fibers, so that they adapt the requirements of different applications, according to Arthur J. Epstein, Distinguished University Professor of chemistry and physics and director of 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," Epstein said. "Plus, we found that we can coat almost any surface with these fibers."
For example, a set of fibers can be made to attract water, while another, with the same initial structure and composition, can be made to repel water. The same response can be achieved when encountering oil and they can even be made to conduct electricity, depending on what polymer they start with.
The advantage of these fibers is that they could instantly repel many chemical compounds, thus acting like self-cleaning surfaces that could stay cleaner longer, while the ones that attract water can be used as anti-fog coating, since they can pull at water droplets and cause them to spread out flat on the surface.
The same properties can be applied to coiled-strands of DNA that can be uncoiled and hung suspended from the fibers like clotheslines, when the fibers pull water droplets containing DNA.
One the most interesting properties that can be applied to electronic devices is the fact that the nanofibers can conduct electricity and light up or change color, depending of the chosen polymer.
"We're very excited about where this kind of development can take us," concluded Epstein.