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Spider-Inspired Fibres for Smart Tech Applications

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A group of researchers led by Assistant Professor Tan Swee Ching from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the National University of Singapore (NUS) – College of Design and Engineering have created a novel method for creating soft fibres that have these three essential characteristics and can also be easily recycled to create new fibres.

The method was inspired by how spiders spin silk to make webs and to address the rising demand for smart textile electronics, Asst Prof Tan cited that technologies for creating soft fibres should be straightforward, effective, and sustainable. It has been shown that soft fibres produced by a spinning technique inspired by spiders are adaptable for a range of smart technology applications.

The traditional artificial spinning processes used to create synthetic fibres demand a lot of energy, chemicals, pressure, and sophisticated machinery. Additionally, the resultant fibres often serve only a few purposes.

In contrast, the spinning of spider silk produces strands that are robust and adaptable at room temperature and pressure. The NUS team made the decision to mimic this natural spinning process to produce one-dimensional (1D) functional soft fibres that are robust, elastic, and electrically conductive to address the present technological hurdles. They discovered two distinct procedures for producing spider silk that they might imitate.

The phase separation-enabled ambient (PSEA) spinning technique was invented by the team after recreating the two processes. The soft fibres were produced by spinning a viscous gel solution of polyacrylonitrile (PAN) and silver ions known as PANSion that had been dissolved in the typical solvent dimethylformamide (DMF).

“It is far more difficult to fabricate 1D soft fibres with seamless integration of all-around capabilities and needs complex production or numerous post-treatment methods. This ground-breaking technique meets the unmet requirement for a straightforward but effective spinning strategy that yields useful 1D soft fibres with unified mechanical and electrical properties,” said Asst Prof Tan.

Additional molecular testing of the PANSion soft fibres validated their electrical conductivity and demonstrated that the silver ions contained in the PANSion gel contributed to the soft fibres’ electrical conductivity. The team concluded that PANSion soft fibres satisfy all the necessary criteria to make them adaptable and possibly useful in a variety of smart technology applications.

The team used a variety of applications, including communication and temperature sensing, to show the abilities of the PANSion soft fibres. An interactive glove that served as an example of a smart gaming glove was made using PANSion fibres. The glove could recognise human hand gestures when it was attached to a computer interface, allowing a user to play easy games.

Electrical signal variations that might be used as a method of communication like Morse code could also be detected by pansion fibres. These fibres also had the ability to detect temperature changes, which may be exploited to shield robots from surroundings with high temperatures. Additionally, PANSion fibres were woven into a smart face mask to track the user’s breathing patterns.

In addition to the numerous possible uses of PANSion soft fibres, this ground-breaking discovery also scores highly in terms of sustainability. By dissolving PANSion fibres in DMF, it is possible to turn them into a gel solution once more for the purpose of spinning new fibres.

This innovative spider-inspired technique for spinning fibres uses substantially less energy and chemical input than other fibre-spinning techniques now in use.

The research team will keep working to increase the sustainability of PANSion soft fibres across every stage of production, from the raw ingredients to recycling the finished product, as a result of this innovative discovery.


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