UC Electrospinning Group

 

What is electrospinning?

Electrospinning was patented in 1934 as a process for producing continuous polymeric fibres with diameters in the submicron range primarily through the use of electrostatic forces. A typical electrospinning set-up involves the supply of a polymer solution via a nozzle or needle (e.g. plastic or glass pipette, hollow metal needle or plastic capillary tube) held at high potential while being separated from an earthed electrode (also referred to as the collector) that will have an opposite polarity relative to the needle. Free charges are induced in the polymer solution under the applied voltage, forming a small droplet at the end of the needle. An electric field is created between the charged molecular species of the droplet and collector so that the droplet is attracted toward the collector under the influence of two major forces: (i) the repulsive force between like charges within the polymer solution and (ii) the columbic force exerted by the surrounding electric field. These forces result in stretching of the droplet into a conical shape, known as the Taylor cone. At a critical voltage the electrostatic forces overcome the surface tension of the droplet, resulting in the ejection of a jet of solution that is attracted toward the collector. As the jet travels towards the collector, the solvent evaporates, leaving just a charged polymer fibre. It is thought that the mutual repulsion of charges within the polymer fibre leads to an unstable, chaotic trajectory or so-called “whipping” instability that stretches the jet. While the initial cross-sectional diameter of the jet may be several hundred micrometers, this can be subsequently reduced to just tens of nanometres due to fibre stretching. The resulting fibres may have a very large surface area to volume ratio and superior mechanical performance compared with the bulk properties of the material, making them potentially useful in applications such as tissue engineering, protective clothing, filtration, drug release, wound dressings, optoelectronics and biosensors. However, one of the chief drawbacks of applying electrospun fibres to a wide range of industries is the difficulty in rapidly producing large amounts of fibres. Greater commercial up-scaling of the electrospinning process can only be aided by a more fundamental understanding of the process.

The UC Electrospinning research group (UC-Spin) at University of Canterbury is engaged in research into novel nanofibres since 2006. Currently, the group is working on the processing of a variety of different polymeric materials (e.g. PVOH, PVP, PVDF, PLLA, HDPE, cellulose, etc.). Electrospun fibres are fabricated and characterised using a range of in-house equipment including high voltage power supplies, single and coaxial spinning heads, automated/controlled feed systems and rotating collector systems. Electrospun fibres are then characterised with high resolution scanning (FE-SEM) and transmission electron microscopy (HRTEM), atomic force microscopy (AFM), spectroscopy techniques (FTIR), X-ray diffraction, and thermomechanical analysis (DSC, TGA, DMA). The mechanical properties (e.g. strength) of the fibres are measured using DMA. Our expertise permits the assessment of mechanical, viscoelastic and thermomechanical properties of the final fibrous material. UC-Spin is currently collaborating with Plant and Food Research (http://www.plantandfood.co.nz/) and Revolution Fibres on the electrospinning of biopolymers extracted from various natural resources. If you are a potential postgraduate student interested in becoming involved in UC-Spin please contact Dr. Mark Staiger.

UC Staff Members Affiliation Role
Dr Mark Staiger Mechanical Engineering Polymer science
Dr. Mathieu Sellier Mechanical Engineering Fluid dynamics, modelling
Dr. Alan Woods Electrical Engineering Electrostatics, modelling
Dr. Vladimir Golovko Chemistry Nanoparticle synthesis
Dr. Owen Curnow Chemistry Solvent preparations
External Members Affiliation Role
Dr. Nick Tucker Plant & Food Research Up-scaling of electrospinning process
Dr. Nigel Larson Plant & Food Research Biochemistry
Dr. Kathleen Hofman Plant & Food Research Biopolymer extraction, characterisation
Dr. Iain Hosie Revolution Fibres Ltd. Up-scaling of electrospinning process
Dr. Chris Brumby Victoria University Nanoparticle synthesis
Prof. Susan James Colorado State University Tissue engineering scaffolds
Students Affiliation Role
Mr. Jonathan Stanger Mechanical Engineering/PFR PhD - Process modelling
Mr. Pablo Lepe Mechanical Engineering/PFR PhD - Biopolymers
Mr. Nurfaizey Hamid Mechanical Engineering/PFR PhD - Biopolymers

Research Opportunities

If the research direction of the UC Electrospinning Group is of interest to you, and you are in possession (or about to be) of a good Honours degree in Mechanical Engineering, please contact:

Mark Staiger

Associate Professor
Director of Studies 3rd Professional Year
Civil Mechanical E512
Internal Phone: 92181

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