Spinning high-strength polymer nanofibers

Ramesh Shrestha, Maarten de Boer, and Sheng Shen have transformed polymers from soft and thermally insulating materials to an ultra-strong and thermally conductive material. Credit: College of Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University

It’s no coincidence then that when Sheng Shen talks about his work with polymer nanofibers he compares it to a spider spinning its web.

“Just as a spider synthesizes silk from protein polymer to form a fiber with strength similar to high tensile steel, polymers can be spun and drawn to form high-strength materials with exceptionally high thermal conductivity,” said Shen, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

Shen and his team have developed a polymer nanofiber that is strong, lightweight, thermally conductive, electrically insulating, and bio-compatible. They accomplished all of this in a single polymer fiber strand measuring less than 100 nanometers.

According to Shen, the potential impact of this development is tremendous. The characteristics of his polymer nanofiber give it application in aerospace and automotive systems, civil and structural engineering, medical devices, and robotics.

In their simplest form, polymers are lots of identical molecules joined together over and over. The molecules could be joined in “simple” chains or more complicated structures. Either way, the resulting polymer has the same characteristics as the molecules used to create it. This means a polymer could be sticky, solid, pliable, or any number of other physical characteristics contained in its molecules.

Read more: Spinning high-strength polymer nanofibers

Images courtesy of phys.org