Durable silk material for biomedical, optical and food supply applications
While silk is best known as a component of clothing and fabrics, the material has many uses, ranging from biomedicine to environmental science. In Applied physics journals, by AIP Publishing, Tufts University researchers discuss properties of silk and recent and future applications of the material.
Silk is an important biomaterial because it does not generate an immune response in humans and promotes cell growth. It has been used in drug delivery, and because the material is flexible and has favorable technological properties, it is ideal for portable and implantable health monitoring sensors.
As an optically transparent and easily manipulated material at the nanoscale and microscopic scale, silk is also useful in optics and electronics. It is used to develop diffractive optics, photonic crystals, and waveguides, among other devices.
More recently, silk has become at the forefront of sustainability research. The material is made in nature and can be reprocessed from recycled or discarded clothing and other textiles. The use of silk coverings can also reduce food waste, which is a significant component of the global carbon footprint.
“We continue to improve the integration between the different disciplines,” said author Giulia Guidetti. “For example, we can use silk as a biomedical device for drug delivery, but also include an optical response in that same device. This same process could someday be used in the food supply chain. Imagine having a coating. which preserves the food but also tells you when the food is bad. “
Silk is versatile and often superior to more traditional materials, as it can be easily modified and chemically adjusted for certain properties or assembled into a specific shape depending on its end use. However, mastering and optimizing these aspects depends on understanding the origin of the material.
The ascending assemblage of silk by silkworms has been studied for a long time, but a full picture of its construction is still lacking. The team stressed the importance of understanding these processes, as it could allow them to manufacture the material more efficiently and with more control over the end function.
“One of the big challenges is that nature is very good at doing things, like making silk, but it covers a huge space of dimensional parameters,” said author Fiorenzo Omenetto. “For technology, we want to do something with repeatability, which requires being able to control a process that has inherent variability and that has been perfected over thousands of years.”
Scientists hope to see more materials and devices use silk in the future, perhaps as an integral component of sensors to gain emerging data about humans and the environment.
– This press release was provided by the American Institute of Physics