Textile Research

“The Phenom allows us to quickly see if we are producing a fiber structure or not.”

The Textile Engineering, Chemistry, and Science (TECS) Department of the College of Textiles at North Carolina State University (NCSU) provides undergraduate education and research, plus graduate-level research opportunities in polymers, fibers, and textiles.

TECS teaches undergraduate classes in polymer and color chemistry, textile technology, and textile engineering, which are important in:

  • Solving crime and settling commercial disputes
  • Detecting and identifying fiber surface contaminants and adulterants to determine the mechanical and chemical “history of a fiber”
  • Designing materials capable of improving batteries, photovoltaic cells, and membrane fuel cells

The college’s nanofiber capabilities help train the next generation of scientists and engineers who are researching nonwoven structures. The new materials find medical use as tissue scaffolds, anti-microbial surfaces, and for filtration applications. New nanocomposite materials are developed for deep space exploration. Clothing and sensors are studied for potential defense against chemical and biological warfare agents.

Challenge: Need Quick Adjustments to Processes

In fiber research, scientists need a method to quickly make adjustments in materials and processes for electro-spinning and nanoweaving. Research depends upon distinguishing details that look like a “homogenous blob” when viewed with an optical microscope. Full-size scanning electron microscopes (SEMs) can view nonwoven materials but are expensive and not readily available. Dr. Jon P. Rust, Professor and Department Head of TECS, and Dr. Russell Gorga, Assistant Professor and Program Director of Textile Engineering, looked for creative alternatives to optical microscopes.

Solution: The Phenom Scanning Electron Microscope

NCSU chose Phenom™ because it is compact, efficient, and cost-effective. The Phenom is rugged, has a quick sample load time, with a resolution to 30 nm.

“We teach fiber identification. We have some very nice optical microscopes but the problem is they only take you so far. We wanted to expand our range of magnification from hundreds of times magnification with the optical microscopes, and go up to thousands of times magnification range with the Phenom SEM,” explains Dr. Gorga. “We needed to show … details about natural and synthetic fibers that you are not able to see using optical microscopes.”

Textile Research with Phenom SEM at NCSU
Dr. Gorga teaches Textile Research with the Phenom SEM at NCSU.

In fiber identification and forensics, “We get great high-resolution images of natural and man-made fibers – you see many details with the Phenom that you aren’t able to see with an optical microscope. For instance, scales on human hair are difficult … to discern using an optical microscope and are easily seen using the Phenom,” says Dr. Rust.

The Phenom can distinguish small differences in fibers, allowing identification of different sources, and detection of adulterants or contaminates. The Phenom can also help determine the mechanical or chemical history of a particular fiber – important in solving a crime or resolving a commercial dispute.

Images of increasing magnification of trilobal nylon fibers
Images of trilobal nylon fibers at increasing magnification. Left to right: 100x optical, 400x optical, ~400x SEM, and ~2500x SEM.

In electrospinning research applications, the NC State College of Textiles uses the Phenom to see “if we are getting nice uniform (nano) fibers.”

Non-woven structures mimic body cell production in terms of laying down structures that are useful for making tissue scaffolds and anti-microbial surfaces – also used for filtration type applications.

“The Phenom is a great way for my graduate students to quickly view what is going on when we are making different changes to materials and to the process. The Phenom allows us to quickly see if we are producing a fiber structure or not,” says Dr. Gorga.

Results of Using the Phenom SEM

“The story is as simple as one, two, three,” concludes Rust. “One, the Phenom has improved undergraduate education by taking the SEM out of the lab and putting it into the classroom for an entire class to see. Two, the Phenom benefited our forensics program by not having to bear the expense of a traditional lab SEM. And, three, the Phenom improved the efficiency of research by allowing our students to walk out of our nonwoven production facility and be able to check a sample immediately and not have to wait until next week to schedule a lab SEM.”

Where will TECS’s students go next? Perhaps they will develop artificial organ tissue, design clothing to repel chemical and biological contamination or engineer the next revolution in membrane fuel cells. Whatever career these TECS students choose, their learning curve is accelerated by the Phenom.

Through teaching, research, and outreach, the Textile Engineering, Chemistry & Science Department at North Carolina State University, in Raleigh, N.C. is dedicated to advancing chemistry, color science, and engineering of polymers, fibers, and textiles: www.tx.ncsu.edu