Boosting Nanofiber Production
Nanofibers - strands of material only a couple hundred nanometers in diameter - have a huge range of possible applications, but the expense of producing them has consigned them to a few high-end, niche applications. A team of MIT researchers has developed a new way to generate nanofibers, using manufacturing techniques common in the microchip industry. They built a one-square-centimeter array of conical tips, which they immersed in a fluid containing a dissolved plastic. They then applied a voltage to the array, producing an electrostatic field that is strongest at the tips of the cones. In a technique known as electrospinning, the cones eject the dissolved plastic as a stream that solidifies into a fiber only 220 nanometers across.