Nanotechnology and Textiles
Textiles are changing thanks to nanotechnology. Better healthcare systems, protective clothing and integrated electronics are just some of the applications. But could such technologies be exploited to steal information or cheat in sporting events? As nanotechnology techniques and applications become more sophisticated, we are likely to see a whole new variety of textiles with integrated electronics, special self-cleaning abilities, resistance to fire, protection from ultraviolet light, and a range of other features. There is currently a huge amount of research and development being conducted across the globe from universities to global corporations to design and create the next generation textiles. Venture Development Corporation (VDC) estimates that consumption in the smart and interactive textiles market is today worth about US$720 million.
Novel nanotech textiles are already being integrated into leading-edge applications for a range of industries including aerospace, automotives, construction and sportswear. They also hold significant promise for the healthcare industry in self-cleaning surfaces, smart surgical gloves, implants and prosthetics and round-the-clock patient monitors.
Examples of industries where nanotech-enhanced textiles are already seeing some application include the sporting industry, skincare, space technology and clothing and material technologies for better protection in extreme environments.
Perhaps the most widely recognized application today is in the shark-skin suit worn by world-record breaking Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps. The suit, which includes a plasma layer enhanced by nanotechnology to repel water molecules, is designed to help the swimmer glide through the water and has become a common feature of major swimming events as all competitors attempt to enhance their chances of winning.
Running shoes, tennis racquets, golf balls, skin creams, and a range other sporting goods have also been enhanced by nanotechnology. In the article on nanotech in sport in this issue, we provide some examples, but also ask – is a shark-skin swimsuit a form of cheating? If all athletes do not have access to the most high tech, expensive clothing and equipment on the market, does it provide those that do with an unfair advantage? And how can or should the use of clothing, equipment and props be regulated?
Staying with nano-enhanced textiles, in the article on nanotech in extreme environments we explore some uses of textiles in fire, space, war and intense uv light. In this regard, the application of nanotechnology on textile materials could lead to the addition of several functional properties. Silver nanoparticles, for example, provide antibacterial properties while platinum and palladium decompose harmful gases or toxic chemicals.
Anti-corrosive pipes for the oil and gas industry, which could help save billions of dollars, spacesuits that monitor the astronaut’s vital signs and hospital gowns that resist hospital super-bugs are some of the applications discussed. UV-blocking textiles enhanced with zinc oxide nanoparticles and extremely strong, wear-resistant surface coatings are two approaches likely to have application in the military, aerospace and other civilian products.
As well as developing textiles to withstand extreme environments, scientists have looked to naturally existing viral nanoparticles that live in some of the harshest environments on earth, for new building blocks for nanotechnology.
Researchers at the John Innes Centre describe the use of a virus extracted from extremely hot, acidic volcanic springs in Iceland as a building block for materials scientists. Not only did the viral nanoparticles stand up to the extreme laboratory tests the scientists put it through, it also proved to be a very useful labeling molecule for various biological applications. The team describe their finding as the discovery of a new, extremely stable and unique nano-building block. Perhaps extreme environments on Earth hold many more, as yet undiscovered, of these novel nanoparticles.
Garments that sense their surroundings and interact with the wearer is an area of considerable interest. As technology advances and new technologies are more easily integrated into textiles, smart clothing with sensing abilities could one day hit the market. Such textile-based nanosensors could provide a personalized healthcare system, monitoring your vital signs as you run up a hill or responding to changes in the weather. In the home, a network of intelligent devices could respond to your every move, which may be a bit too much for many people, but has potential use for providing more independence for people suffering from dementia or other psychological problems.
Are sensors in clothes going a step too far? In our article on Nanosensors – Big benefit or big brother, the authors say it depends how the information is being used. Personal data circulated within a communications network would need to be encrypted with the proper security measures in place. Such measures must be developed before these products hit the market. Vital health statistics and a monitor of our every move is not the sort of information we would like to fall into the wrong hands.
In the past number of months, a team of researchers led by John Rogers at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, have published a range of articles in Nature, Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, on the development of electronic circuits that bend and stretch.
This issue includes a feature on development of these bendy chips, which display some amazing properties. Nanoribbons form the basis for the chips which are so bendy they can wrap around the edge of a microscope coverslip and so stretchable they can be twisted into a corkscrew. The researchers are focusing applications development in the healthcare industry and believe these tiny, flexible electronic sheets could one day be used to line the brain to monitor activity in patients at risk of epilepsy or be integrated into surgical gloves to monitor a patient’s vital signs during surgery.
Switzerland is the profiled country in this issue and we are delighted to include a detailed and informative interview with one of Switzerland’s best known scientists, Professor Christoph Gerber. Professor Gerber made a major contribution to the invention of the scanning tunneling microscope and the atomic force microscope. He is also a co-inventor of biochemical sensors based on AFM technology and speaks of his vision for the future in the field of chemical sensing, providing a mini tutorial along the way.
Professor Gerber is currently based at Switzerland’s National Competence Center (NCCR) for Nanoscience, the country’s leading network in nanotech research and development. In our profile piece we explore some of the work at the NCCR Nanoscience and gain an insight from one of the leaders of research, Professor Christian Schönenberger, on the wide range of applications, networks and collaborations at the research centre.
This issue also includes all our usual regular sections including news and events, and our regular features on nanomedicine and tools and instruments.
Nanomedicine, in this issue, focuses on plasma technologies that may be used to add functionalities to modern textiles and may, in turn, provide a range of applications in nanomedicine from anti-fouling coatings to wear resistance. New techniques in optical microscopy that are enabling scientists to view cells and tissues in three dimensions provide our tools and instruments feature.
This is the final issue of NANO for the year. We look forward to providing more interesting news and features from the nano-world in the new year.
Source: NANO Magazine - Issue 9 /...
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