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Research / Discovery

Intelligent textiles: Prof researches nanotech fibers

April 25, 2014

If textiles could talk, what would they say? In the research of new Department of Design and Merchandising Assistant Professor Vivian Li, nanotechnology fibers have a lot to say about improving health practices and finding renewable energy sources.

Vivian Li, assistant professor in the Department of Design and Merchandising, (left) in her laboratory in the Gifford Building working with graduate student Daniela Jankovska.Li is a fiber scientist in her first year at CSU. The nanotech fiber industry is making radical improvements in textiles used in the military, medical, and clean energy fields. Nanotechnologies have the ability to manipulate atoms to enhance product properties, making fibers that are lighter, stronger, and responsive to their surroundings. These fibers are extremely small -- less than 100 nanometers -- but through chemical bonding, can strengthen and alter the surface of any textile.

Through a recent grant from CSU Ventures, Li is launching a project on developing responsive nanofibers. Li is studying carbon nanodots that coat nanofibers made for medical bandages, which can respond to bacteria growth by changing colors. Her work could save lives in the near future through nanofibers that can detect signs of impending wound infections. With the help of graduate student Daniela Jankovska, Li is currently testing cotton to see how well carbon nanodots are adhering and to test their florescent response.

"We are really excited about our latest piece of equipment: the atomic force microscope," says Li. "It will give us high-resolution images on the nanoscale to see how our nanomaterials and the fibers interact."

Renewable energy applications

Another aspect of Li's research has led her to study the use of nanofibers for locating and mining renewable energy sources. Upon learning that a Wyoming reservoir (Rock Springs, Wyo.) is saturated with lithium, a key ingredient in industrial applications, including batteries, power plants and pharmaceutical products, Li has proposed a new nanotextile that could cleanly and quickly mine the energy source. Li will adapt Korean technology, which has successfully mined lithium from the ocean, to the fresh water resource out of Wyoming.

"Bringing this kind of nanofiber technology to the U.S. could make a huge impact on clean mining practices and boost the use of renewable energy," explains Li.

Contact: Gretchen Gerding
Phone: (970) 491-5182