Christina Tan, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemical engineering and engineering in the life sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University, has found a way to change the colors of nanotissue depending on temperature or the presence of a virus. This is due to the rotation of liquid crystals in the fibers.
Imagine a cleaning wipe that can detect the presence of bacteria or pathogens and change color to another, or an N95 respirator mask that can detect the presence of a new coronavirus and respond in a way that alerts the user.
For their work, Tan and his team used an electric spinning wheel, which in its functionality resembles a cotton candy machine. The nozzle generates material, which is then drawn into fiber and rolled into sheets.
Polymer nanomaterials are made from plastics such as nylon or polyethylene. Same material as plastic soda bottles. Tang Lab produces non-woven nanofibers similar to reusable shopping bags that can be easily mass produced.
These “smart fabrics” are made of soft, lightweight and elastic materials and can be used in clothing, for example, for disguise, or for other purposes, such as detecting the presence of a pathogen. They have also been used to create wearable sensors and devices.
In the case of the N95 mask, according to scientists, the owner will know “when to change it, instead of just guessing the safe period.” With cleaning wipes, “you can keep wiping until they stop changing color.”