Fibers represent a remarkably old and abundant material form. In fact, fibers are important in our individual life, starting from the first day, and, have profoundly influenced the development of mankind for many thousands of years. Today, the development of advanced fibers is gaining new significance as a motor for industrial innovation, particularly in composite materials and high-tech or medical applications. It is our goal to contribute to this research field to support a safer and more sustainable living environment.
Through the example of our newly developed continuous fluid-core fiber it becomes readily apparent how novel fibers can act as innovation motors early in the added value chain. The basic form of the fluid-core fiber can be adapted into completely different fields of application, ranging from damping of composite materials to drug administration in the medical domain. Our affiliation to the department “materials meet life” allows us to consider complex medical or biological applications because we also have the required biological expertise from our colleagues in-house. This unique combination can generate significant added value for our research partners and open access to otherwise inaccessible markets.
Understanding synthetic fibers inside-out
To reach our goals, we focus mainly on the development of novel synthetic fibers. This focus is economically relevant since two thirds of all fibers produced world-wide are indeed synthetic. It is important to understand that a synthetic fiber is much more than a simple polymer thread; the performance determining factor of a fiber lies within its molecular structure. Inside there are small crystals, which tie together the polymer molecules; and there are more amorphous regions in a fiber; the interplay between these domains directly determines the fiber flexibility and tensile strength. Along these lines, we analyze and modify the fiber structure on nanometer to micrometer scales using cutting edge analytical tools and by controlling the melt-spinning process in new ways.
Interacting with the surface
About bond making and bond breaking
Profound understanding of chemical bond making and bond breaking is required to synthesize new functional molecules. Important aspects that we focus on include “green” yet economical synthesis routes as well as the understanding of how molecules disintegrate at the end of the material lifetime. The latter includes aspects like ageing or physical influences like heat or radiation. In this area we make use of highly modern analytics tools including synchrotron radiation at the VUV beamline of the Paul Scherrer Instittute (PSI). Having this know-how at hand, we are able to tailor interesting properties like corrosion resistance, chemical stability, flame retardency or biological functionality.The possibility to synthesize our own original molecules allows us to finally provide industry partners with exclusivities based on strong substance patents for commercial exploitation. This is an invaluable asset that helps carry new substances through legal admission procedures like the REACH registration.
Together with industry
We fund half of our expenditures from collaborative projects with industry, where we practice different models of collaboration, ranging from bilateral to national to international schemes. The typical goal of such collaboration is to generate innovation in the form of intellectual property in the business area of the industry partner, which adds to competitiveness or allows market expansion. A contract of collaboration defines the rights of use for each partner; we typically like to keep the rights for further research outside the business area of the project partner. If a development or part of it becomes useful in another field of application, this can synergistically help market introduction, e.g. REACH registration.
Movie of our lab Advanced Fibers
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In our recently published article in the Nature journal “scientific reports” we could verify the hypothesis that water confined inside a gradient polymer matrix can orient and thus generate a collective dipole field, which is significantly extending over many nanometers.
- New flame retardant enters market https://www.empa.ch/web/s604/eda-dopo-flame-retardant
- Poster Competition Award Yan Yurong at The Fiber Society 2017 Spring Conference https://www.empa.ch/documents/56164/983781/Posterprize+Yurong/649b752d-cb29-4d09-b3f4-ad27ec387efe
- Techtextil 2017:
Our newly developed fluid-core fiber recently triggered considerable interest at the TechTextil 2017 exhibition and conference in Frankfurt. We presented our results at the scientific symposium and showed a demonstrator at the Empa booth. The demonstrator showed a dynamic color change via pumping of colored fluids through the fiber core.
In future, we want to use such fibers to add mechanical damping in lightweight composite materials.