Revolutionary Spider-Inspired Method Creates Soft, Reusable Fibers for Smart Textiles

Researchers at the National University of Singapore’s College of Design and Engineering, in collaboration with international partners, have developed an innovative method for producing soft, reusable fibers suitable for smart textiles. Taking inspiration from the intricate spinning process of spiders, the team has devised a groundbreaking technique called Phase Separation-Enabled Ambient (PSEA) spinning. These fibers exhibit exceptional strength, stretchability, and electrical conductivity, making them ideal for a wide range of applications, including interactive gaming gloves and breath-monitoring smart masks.

Led by assistant professor Tan Swee Ching, the research team sought to replicate the two-step spinning process of spider silk production. They transformed a protein-rich solution into a fiber strand, resulting in a material that is both durable and versatile. The PSEA spinning approach involves using a gel solution called PANSion, composed of polyacrylonitrile (PAN) and silver ions, to spin fibers at room temperature and pressure. Upon exposure to air, the liquid portion of the gel separates, leaving behind a solid, soft fiber.

The resulting fibers possess the desired properties of strength, stretchability, and electrical conductivity. Rigorous testing has confirmed their resilience, elasticity, and conductivity, with the inclusion of silver ions in the PANSion gel enhancing the electrical characteristics of the fibers.

The potential applications for these innovative fibers are vast. The research team has already demonstrated their capabilities by creating an interactive glove that can detect hand gestures for gaming purposes and fibers capable of sensing electrical signals, enabling communication similar to Morse code. Additionally, these fibers can sense temperature changes, making them valuable for protecting robots operating in extreme conditions. They have also been integrated into a smart face mask for monitoring breath patterns.

What sets these fibers apart is their recyclability. They can be transformed back into a gel solution to spin new fibers, significantly reducing energy consumption and the volume of chemicals required compared to traditional methods.

While celebrating their breakthrough, the research team remains committed to enhancing the environmental impact of PANSion fibers. They are determined to improve sustainability throughout the entire production cycle.

Assistant professor Tan expressed his excitement about the potential of these fibers, stating, “Technologies for fabricating soft fibers should be simple, efficient, and sustainable to meet the high demand for smart textile electronics. Soft fibers created using our spider-inspired method of spinning have been demonstrated to be versatile for various smart technology applications.”

The development of these functional fibers represents a significant advancement in the field. By providing a simple yet efficient spinning approach to produce one-dimensional soft fibers with unified mechanical and electrical functionalities, the research team has fulfilled an unmet need in the industry.

As the research continues, it is clear that this spider-inspired method has the potential to revolutionize the production of smart textiles, opening up endless possibilities for their use in various industries. With their strength, stretchability, and electrical conductivity, these fibers are set to reshape the landscape of wearable technology and contribute to the development of innovative and interactive devices.


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