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A Passion for Paisley Photo The Great Tapestry of Scotland
21.05.2024

Edinburgh was weaving Paisley shawls 40 years before Paisley

Edinburgh was weaving what became known as Paisley shawls in the 1700s more than 40 years before the Renfrewshire town they were named after, a new exhibition will show.

Hosted by Heriot-Watt University and The Great Tapestry of Scotland in Galashiels, the exhibition will reveal that Edinburgh weavers were the first in Britain to create replicas of the Kashmir shawls brought back from India, the first recorded being in 1767.

It wasn’t until 1808 that Paisley’s weaving industry started making the shawls, and later gave the garment its iconic name.

The exhibition, called A Passion for Paisley, will feature a selection from the range of more than 100 shawls and shawl fragments that forms part of the University’s textile collection, housed in the Scottish Borders Campus in Galashiels.

Edinburgh was weaving what became known as Paisley shawls in the 1700s more than 40 years before the Renfrewshire town they were named after, a new exhibition will show.

Hosted by Heriot-Watt University and The Great Tapestry of Scotland in Galashiels, the exhibition will reveal that Edinburgh weavers were the first in Britain to create replicas of the Kashmir shawls brought back from India, the first recorded being in 1767.

It wasn’t until 1808 that Paisley’s weaving industry started making the shawls, and later gave the garment its iconic name.

The exhibition, called A Passion for Paisley, will feature a selection from the range of more than 100 shawls and shawl fragments that forms part of the University’s textile collection, housed in the Scottish Borders Campus in Galashiels.

Helen Taylor, Archivist at Heriot-Watt University, said: “Paisley design has stayed a very iconic motif and has remained a fixture even as fashions have changed.  Our collection in the Borders is a very good one and was really developed for teaching and research. You can't recreate the weaving, because the looms don’t exist anymore. But if you’re looking for design inspiration, Paisley shawls are a great example of East-West influence.”

Paisley shawls are richly patterned and often feature a distinctive Persian-style teardrop motif. This is inspired by the Babylonian Tree of Life, a magical tree from Mesopotamian mythology that grew in the centre of paradise.

Other motifs include floral and tendril designs, a striped zebra design and an oblong motif known as a ‘temple door’ design. Red was a recurring colour in Paisley shawls, alongside blues, greens, yellows and other colours, all created from natural plant dyes. Paisley shawls were hugely popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. Empress Josephine, Napoleon’s first wife, was known to own about 400 of the woollen shawls.

“When the British empire was expanding, people started bringing back Kashmir shawls as gifts,” Ms Taylor explained. “They were very expensive and were actually woven in cashmere. Weavers in Edinburgh started making reproduction shawls, and the first record of a reproduction Kashmir shawl being woven was in Edinburgh in 1767.”

Edinburgh in the 1700s already had a damask industry – when designs are woven into fabric rather than printed onto it – and it was these weavers who started making the reproduction Kashmir shawls. But when fashions evolved and the shawls got bigger, the Edinburgh weavers started outsourcing to Paisley, where weaving skills and technology were advancing and amongst the best in the world.

“In Edinburgh, shawl weaving was more of a cottage industry, with small looms being used around the city’s Old Town and shawls being woven in sections and sewn together,” Ms Taylor said. “In Paisley, they started using Jacquard looms, which used punch cards and allowed more complex design to be woven more easily.”

Most of Heriot-Watt’s Paisley shawls were collected by a ceramics curator called Janet Paterson who collected Paisley shawls in the 1940s and 50s. The collection was given to the University by her son, Alan, along with his tartan collection.

A Passion for Paisley runs from 26 March to 12 July 2024 at The Great Tapestry of Scotland, 14-20 High St, Galashiels TD1 1SD. There is an entrance fee of £5.

Heriot-Watt School of Textiles and Design dates back to 1883, when classes in weaving, dyeing and chemistry were introduced to train workers for the local textiles industry.

The School is a centre of excellence in design, with Honorary Graduates including British fashion icon Dame Vivienne Westwood. It is based on Heriot-Watt’s Scottish Borders Campus, which is built around a historic mill in Galashiels, at the heart of Scotland's luxury textile industry.

The Great Tapestry of Scotland visitor centre was purpose-built to house The Great Tapestry of Scotland, one of the world’s largest community arts projects. The Tapestry was hand-stitched by a team of 1,000 stitchers from across Scotland and charts 420 million years of Scotland's history, heritage, innovations and culture through 160 panels.

Source:

Heriot-Watt University

NC State Research: Machine Learning to Create a Fabric-Based Touch Sensor (c) NC State University
13.05.2024

Machine Learning to Create a Fabric-Based Touch Sensor

A new study from NC State University combines three-dimensional embroidery techniques with machine learning to create a fabric-based sensor that can control electronic devices through touch.

As the field of wearable electronics gains more interest and new functions are added to clothing, an embroidery-based sensor or “button” capable of controlling those functions becomes increasingly important. Integrated into the fabric of a piece of clothing, the sensor can activate and control electronic devices like mobile apps entirely by touch.  

A new study from NC State University combines three-dimensional embroidery techniques with machine learning to create a fabric-based sensor that can control electronic devices through touch.

As the field of wearable electronics gains more interest and new functions are added to clothing, an embroidery-based sensor or “button” capable of controlling those functions becomes increasingly important. Integrated into the fabric of a piece of clothing, the sensor can activate and control electronic devices like mobile apps entirely by touch.  

The device is made up of two parts; the embroidered pressure sensor itself and a microchip which processes and distributes the data collected by that sensor. The sensor is triboelectric, which means that it powers itself using the electric charge generated from the friction between its multiple layers. It is made from yarns consisting of two triboelectric materials, one with a positive electric charge and the other with a negative charge, which were integrated into conventional textile fabrics using embroidery machines.

Rong Yin, corresponding author of the study, said that the three-dimensional structure of the sensor was important to get right.

“Because the pressure sensor is triboelectric, it needed to have two layers with a gap in between them. That gap was one of the difficult parts in the process, because we are using embroidery which is usually two-dimensional. It’s a technique for decorating fabric,” he said. “It’s challenging to make a three-dimensional structure that way. By using a spacer, we were able to control the gap between the two layers which lets us control the sensor’s output.”

Data from the pressure sensor is then sent to the microchip, which is responsible for turning that raw input into specific instructions for any connected devices. Machine learning algorithms are key to making sure this runs smoothly, Yin said. The device needs to be able to tell the difference between gestures assigned to different functions, as well to disregard any unintentional inputs that might come from the cloth’s normal movement.

“Sometimes the data that the sensor acquires is not very accurate, and this can happen for all kinds of reasons,” Yin said. “Sometimes the data will be affected by environmental factors like temperature or humidity, or the sensor touches something by mistake. By using machine learning, we can train the device to recognize those kinds of things.

“Machine learning also allows this very small device to achieve many different tasks, because it can recognize different kinds of inputs.”

The researchers demonstrated this input recognition by developing a simple music playing mobile app which connected to the sensor via Bluetooth. They designed six functions for the app: play/pause, next song, last song, volume up, volume down and mute, each controlled by a different gesture on the sensor. Researchers were able to use the device for several other functions, including setting and inputting passwords and controlling video games.

The idea is still in its early stages, Yin said, as existing embroidery technology is not capable of easily handling the types of materials used in the creation of the sensor. Still, the new sensor represents another piece of the developing wearable electronics puzzle, which is sure to continue picking up interest in the near future.

The paper, “A clickable embroidered triboelectric sensor for smart fabric,” is published in Device.

Source:

North Carolina State University, Joey Pitchford

Photo: 政徳 吉田, Pixabay
03.05.2024

Vehicle underbodies made from natural fibers and recycled plastics

In collaboration with industrial partners, researchers at the Fraunhofer WKI have developed a vehicle underbody made from natural fibers and recycled plastics for automotive construction. The focus at the Fraunhofer WKI was directed at the development of the materials for injection molding as well as the hydrophobization of flax and hemp fibers for natural-fiber-reinforced mixed-fiber non-wovens.

The component fulfills the stringent technical requirements in the underbody area and could replace conventional lightweight vehicle underbodies in the future. With this development, the climate and environmental balance is optimized throughout the entire product life cycle.

In collaboration with industrial partners, researchers at the Fraunhofer WKI have developed a vehicle underbody made from natural fibers and recycled plastics for automotive construction. The focus at the Fraunhofer WKI was directed at the development of the materials for injection molding as well as the hydrophobization of flax and hemp fibers for natural-fiber-reinforced mixed-fiber non-wovens.

The component fulfills the stringent technical requirements in the underbody area and could replace conventional lightweight vehicle underbodies in the future. With this development, the climate and environmental balance is optimized throughout the entire product life cycle.

The project partners Fraunhofer WKI, Thuringian Institute for Textile and Plastics Research (TITK), Röchling Automotive SE & Co. KG, BBP Kunststoffwerk Marbach Baier GmbH and Audi AG have succeeded in developing a sustainable overall concept for vehicle underbodies. The researchers have thereby taken a challenging component group with a high plastic content and made it accessible for the utilization of natural materials. Until now, natural-fiber-reinforced plastics have predominantly been used in cars for trim parts without significant mechanical functions. Structural components such as vehicle underbodies are, however, exposed to enormous loads and place high demands on the bending and crash behavior of the material. In modern lightweight vehicle concepts, high-performance materials made from glass-fiber-reinforced plastics are therefore utilized.

The project team was able to replace the glass fibers with natural materials such as flax, hemp and cellulose fibers and to produce underbody components with a natural-fiber content of up to 45%. In the area of polymers, virgin polypropylene was completely dispensed with and solely recyclates were utilized. All the challenges associated with this material changeover – both the lower initial mechanical properties of the materials and the temporally restricted processing windows – were solved by means of skillful compound combinations.

At the Fraunhofer WKI, materials for injection molding were developed. “Natural-fiber injection-molded compounds have so far been known primarily for their increased strength and stiffness compared to non-reinforced polymers. In the development of the vehicle underbody, we have furthermore succeeded in fulfilling the stringent requirements for low-temperature impact strength through an innovative combination of selected post-consumer recyclates (PCR) as a matrix and natural fibers of varying degrees of purity - without forfeiting the required stiffness and strength,” explained Moritz Micke-Camuz, Project Manager at the Fraunhofer WKI.

Within the framework of the development, fiber-composite components made from natural-fiber-reinforced mixed-fiber non-wovens (lightweight-reinforced thermoplastic, LWRT) were realized for the first time at the TITK and at Röchling. The developed product not only fulfills the mechanical requirements: It also withstands in particular the challenges posed by the humid environment in which it is used. For the hydrophobization of flax and hemp fibers for LWRT components, a continuous furfurylation process was developed at the Fraunhofer WKI. Through furfurylation, moisture absorption can be reduced by up to 35 percent without impairment of the bending strength of the subsequent components. The furfurylated fiber material can also be easily processed on a non-woven production line.

The prototype components produced were subsequently extensively tested both at component level and in road tests. Amongst others, the vehicles from the VW Group’s new “Premium Platform Electric” (PPE) were used for this purpose. Long-term experience has already been gathered within the framework of the series testing. The gratifying result of these tests: The newly developed biocomposites fulfill all standard requirements for underbody components and have proven to be suitable for series production. Neither the use of natural fibers nor of (post-consumer) recyclates leads to a significant impairment of the properties.

One major advantage of the innovation is the significantly improved carbon footprint: Compared to series production, 10.5 kilograms of virgin material (PP/glass fiber) can be replaced by 4.2 kilograms of natural fibers and 6.3 kilograms of post-consumer recyclate. As a result, CO2 emissions during production, use and product life have been reduced by up to 40 percent.

Within the scope of the development project, an innovative, holistic overall concept for vehicle underbodies, including recycling with cascading re-use of the components, was developed. From a technical point of view, vehicle underbodies can be manufactured entirely from the new, high-performance lightweight bio construction material in the future.

The project was funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK) via the project management organization TÜV Rheinland.

Source:

Fraunhofer-Institut für Holzforschung, Wilhelm-Klauditz-Institut WKI

(c) MIT Self Assembly Lab
29.04.2024

The 4D Knit Dress - Is this the future of fashion?

Developed by the Self-Assembly Lab, the 4D Knit Dress uses several technologies to create a custom design and a custom fit, while addressing sustainability concerns.

Until recently, bespoke tailoring — clothing made to a customer’s individual specifications — was the only way to have garments that provided the perfect fit for your physique. For most people, the cost of custom tailoring is prohibitive. But the invention of active fibers and innovative knitting processes is changing the textile industry.

“We all wear clothes and shoes,” says Sasha MicKinlay MArch ’23, a recent graduate of the MIT Department of Architecture. “It’s a human need. But there’s also the human need to express oneself. I like the idea of customizing clothes in a sustainable way. This dress promises to be more sustainable than traditional fashion to both the consumer and the producer.”

Developed by the Self-Assembly Lab, the 4D Knit Dress uses several technologies to create a custom design and a custom fit, while addressing sustainability concerns.

Until recently, bespoke tailoring — clothing made to a customer’s individual specifications — was the only way to have garments that provided the perfect fit for your physique. For most people, the cost of custom tailoring is prohibitive. But the invention of active fibers and innovative knitting processes is changing the textile industry.

“We all wear clothes and shoes,” says Sasha MicKinlay MArch ’23, a recent graduate of the MIT Department of Architecture. “It’s a human need. But there’s also the human need to express oneself. I like the idea of customizing clothes in a sustainable way. This dress promises to be more sustainable than traditional fashion to both the consumer and the producer.”

McKinlay is a textile designer and researcher at the Self-Assembly Lab who designed the 4D Knit Dress with Ministry of Supply, a fashion company specializing in high-tech apparel. The dress combines several technologies to create personalized fit and style. Heat-activated yarns, computerized knitting, and robotic activation around each garment generates the sculpted fit. A team at Ministry of Supply led the decisions on the stable yarns, color, original size, and overall design.

“Everyone’s body is different,” says Skylar Tibbits, associate professor in the Department of Architecture and founder of the Self-Assembly Lab. “Even if you wear the same size as another person, you're not actually the same.”

Active textiles
Students in the Self-Assembly Lab have been working with dynamic textiles for several years. The yarns they create can change shape, change property, change insulation, or become breathable. Previous applications to tailor garments include making sweaters and face masks. Tibbits says the 4D Knit Dress is a culmination of everything the students have learned from working with active textiles.

McKinlay helped produce the active yarns, created the concept design, developed the knitting technique, and programmed the lab’s industrial knitting machine. Once the garment design is programmed into the machine, it can quickly produce multiple dresses. Where the active yarns are placed in the design allows for the dress to take on a variety of styles such as pintucks, pleats, an empire waist, or a cinched waist.

“The styling is important,” McKinlay says. “Most people focus on the size, but I think styling is what sets clothes apart. We’re all evolving as people, and I think our style evolves as well. After fit, people focus on personal expression.”

Danny Griffin MArch ’22, a current graduate student in architectural design, doesn’t have a background in garment making or the fashion industry. Tibbits asked Griffin to join the team due to his experience with robotics projects in construction. Griffin translated the heat activation process into a programmable robotic procedure that would precisely control its application.

“When we apply heat, the fibers shorten, causing the textile to bunch up in a specific zone, effectively tightening the shape as if we’re tailoring the garment,” says Griffin. “There was a lot of trial and error to figure out how to orient the robot and the heat gun. The heat needs to be applied in precise locations to activate the fibers on each garment. Another challenge was setting the temperature and the timing for the heat to be applied.”

“We couldn’t use a commercial heat gun — which is like a handheld hair dryer — because they’re too large,” says Griffin. “We needed a more compact design. Once we figured it out, it was a lot of fun to write the script for the robot to follow.”

A dress can begin with one design — pintucks across the chest, for example — and be worn for months before having heat re-applied to alter its look. Subsequent applications of heat can tailor the dress further.

Beyond fit and fashion
Efficiently producing garments is a “big challenge” in the fashion industry, according to Gihan Amarasiriwardena ’11, the co-founder and president of Ministry of Supply.

“A lot of times you'll be guessing what a season's style is,” he says. “Sometimes the style doesn't do well, or some sizes don’t sell out. They may get discounted very heavily or eventually they end up going to a landfill.”

“Fast fashion” is a term that describes clothes that are inexpensive, trendy, and easily disposed of by the consumer. They are designed and produced quickly to keep pace with current trends. The 4D Knit Dress, says Tibbits, is the opposite of fast fashion. Unlike the traditional “cut-and-sew” process in the fashion industry, the 4D Knit Dress is made entirely in one piece, which virtually eliminates waste.

“From a global standpoint, you don’t have tons of excess inventory because the dress is customized to your size,” says Tibbits.

McKinlay says she hopes use of this new technology will reduce the amount of waste in inventory that retailers usually have at the end of each season.

“The dress could be tailored in order to adapt to these changes in styles and tastes,” she says. “It may also be able to absorb some of the size variations that retailers need to stock. Instead of extra-small, small, medium, large, and extra-large sizes, retailers may be able to have one dress for the smaller sizes and one for the larger sizes. Of course, these are the same sustainability points that would benefit the consumer.”

The Self-Assembly Lab has collaborated with Ministry of Supply on projects with active textiles for several years. Late last year, the team debuted the 4D Knit Dress at the company’s flagship store in Boston, complete with a robotic arm working its way around a dress as customers watched. For Amarasiriwardena, it was an opportunity to gauge interest and receive feedback from customers interested in trying the dress on.

“If the demand is there, this is something we can create quickly” unlike the usual design and manufacturing process, which can take years, says Amarasiriwardena.

Griffin and McKinlay were on hand for the demonstration and pleased with the results. For Griffin, with the “technical barriers” overcome, he sees many different avenues for the project.

“This experience leaves me wanting to try more,” he says.

McKinlay too would love to work on more styles.

“I hope this research project helps people rethink or reevaluate their relationship with clothes,” says McKinlay. “Right now when people purchase a piece of clothing it has only one ‘look.’ But, how exciting would it be to purchase one garment and reinvent it to change and evolve as you change or as the seasons or styles change? I'm hoping that's the takeaway that people will have.”

Source:

Maria Iacobo | Olivia Mintz | School of Architecture and Planning, MIT Department of Architecture

Co-friendly textiles without PFAS Image: Empa
22.04.2024

Co-friendly textiles without PFAS

Rain jackets, swimming trunks or upholstery fabrics: Textiles with water-repellent properties require chemical impregnation. Although fluorine-containing PFAS chemicals are effective, they are also harmful to human health and accumulate in the environment. Empa researchers are now developing a process with alternative substances that can be used to produce environmentally friendly water-repellent textile fibers. Initial analyses show: The "good" fibers repel water more effectively and dry faster than those of conventional products.

Rain jackets, swimming trunks or upholstery fabrics: Textiles with water-repellent properties require chemical impregnation. Although fluorine-containing PFAS chemicals are effective, they are also harmful to human health and accumulate in the environment. Empa researchers are now developing a process with alternative substances that can be used to produce environmentally friendly water-repellent textile fibers. Initial analyses show: The "good" fibers repel water more effectively and dry faster than those of conventional products.

If swimming trunks are to retain their shape after swimming and to dry quickly, they must combine two properties: They must be elastic and must not soak up water. Such a water-repellent effect can be achieved by treating the textiles with chemicals that give the elastic garment so-called hydrophobic properties. In the 1970s, new synthetic fluorine compounds began to be used for this purpose – compounds that seemed to offer countless application possibilities, but later turned out to be highly problematic. This is because these fluorocarbon compounds, PFAS for short, accumulate in the environment and are harmful to our health (see box). Empa researchers are therefore working with Swiss textile companies to develop alternative environmentally friendly processes that can be used to give fibers a water-repellent finish. Dirk Hegemann from Empa's Advanced Fibers laboratory in St. Gallen explains the Innosuisse-funded project: "We use so-called highly cross-linked siloxanes, which create silicone-like layers and – unlike fluorine-containing PFAS – are harmless."

Empa's plasma coating facilities range from handy table-top models to room-filling devices. For the coating of textile fibers, the siloxanes are atomized and activated in a reactive gas. They thereby retain their functional properties and enclose the textile fibers in a water-repellent coating that is only 30 nanometers thin. Fibers coated this way can then be processed into water-repellent textiles of all kinds, for example garments or technical textiles such as upholstery fabrics.

The advantage over conventional wet-chemical processes: Even with complex structured textiles, the seamless distribution of the hydrophobic substances is guaranteed right into all turns of the intertwined fibers. This is crucial, because even a tiny wettable spot would be enough for water to penetrate into the depths of a pair of swimming trunks, preventing the garment from drying quickly. "We have even succeeded in permanently impregnating more demanding, elastic fibers with the new process, which was previously not possible," says Hegemann.

Great interest from industry
In initial laboratory analyses, textiles made from the new fibers with an environmentally friendly coating are already performing slightly better than conventional PFAS-coated fabrics. They absorb less water and dry faster. However, the miraculous properties of the fluorine-free coating only really come into their own after the textiles have been washed several times: While the performance of conventional PFAS coatings in stretchy textiles declines considerably after repeated wash cycles, the fluorine-free fibers retain their water-repellent properties.

Hegemann and his team are now working on scaling up the fluorine-free laboratory process into efficient and economically viable industrial processes. "The industry is very interested in finding sustainable alternatives to PFAS," says Hegemann. The Swiss textile companies Lothos KLG, beag Bäumlin & Ernst AG and AG Cilander are already on board when it comes to developing environmentally friendly fluorine-free textiles. "This is a successful collaboration that combines materials, fiber technology and plasma coating and leads to an innovative, sustainable and effective solution," says Dominik Pregger from Lothos. And Bernd Schäfer, CEO of beag, adds: "The technology is environmentally friendly and also has interesting economic potential."

More information:
Empa PFAS Plasma Fibers
Source:

Dr. Andrea Six, EMPA

Nordic cooperation on circular innovation focusing on workwear Photo: Sven, pixabay
16.04.2024

Nordic cooperation on circular innovation focusing on workwear

The University of Borås, Aalborg University Business School and Circular Innovation Lab have just started the 'North-South Circular Value Chains Within Textiles' project - an explorative project that aims at bridging textile brands in the Nordics with a strong focus on sustainability with innovative producers in the South.

Focus areas are Circular Value Chains (CVCs), Circular and resource-efficient textiles economy, Workwear and technical clothing, Sectors such as construction, energy, electronics and IT, plastics, textiles, retail and metals.

Made possible by a grant from the Interreg ÖKS programme, the first step is to create a specific economic, legal and technological framework allowing Scandinavian workwear companies to enter into close collaboration on circular solutions in the overall textile value chain and to prepare, and adapt their global value chains to the upcoming EU regulations on circular economy.

The University of Borås, Aalborg University Business School and Circular Innovation Lab have just started the 'North-South Circular Value Chains Within Textiles' project - an explorative project that aims at bridging textile brands in the Nordics with a strong focus on sustainability with innovative producers in the South.

Focus areas are Circular Value Chains (CVCs), Circular and resource-efficient textiles economy, Workwear and technical clothing, Sectors such as construction, energy, electronics and IT, plastics, textiles, retail and metals.

Made possible by a grant from the Interreg ÖKS programme, the first step is to create a specific economic, legal and technological framework allowing Scandinavian workwear companies to enter into close collaboration on circular solutions in the overall textile value chain and to prepare, and adapt their global value chains to the upcoming EU regulations on circular economy.

Recently, the consortium partners convened for an initial meeting at The Swedish School of Textiles to discuss the project framework, which is a feasibility study intended to lead to a multi-year project involving workwear companies in the Öresund-Kattegat-Skagerrak (ÖKS) region, including their supply chains in Asia.

Kim Hjerrild, Strategic Partnerships Lead at the Danish think tank Circular Innovation Lab, Copenhagen, explained: "The goal is to assist workwear producers in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway in becoming more sustainable through circular product design, production, and service concepts. We are pleased to have The Swedish School of Textiles lead the project as they have a strong tradition of collaborating with textile companies."

Complex branch
The decision to focus specifically on workwear stems from it being a complex part of the textile industry, demanding strict standards, certifications, safety aspects, and specific functions depending on the application area, such as specific high-performance environments, healthcare, and hospitality. "To future-proof their operations, companies need to become more resource efficient and circular by producing durable and long lasting workwear that can be repaired and reused. Additionally, they must reduce their carbon footprint per product, as well as minimize problematic chemical usage, and increasingly use recycled materials" explained Kim Hjerrild.

Wants to provide companies with tools and knowledge
Apoorva Arya, founder and CEO of Circular Innovation Lab, elaborates: "Our first and primary goal is to equip Scandinavian workwear companies with tools and knowledge in order to comply with the upcoming EU directives and policies. This includes regulations on product-specific design requirements to labour conditions for employees, human rights, all the way from production to third-party suppliers. Ensuring these companies, especially their suppliers, can transition to a circular supply chain, and navigate the legislative landscape, while guaranteeing competitiveness in the global market."

Focus on new structures
Rudrajeet Pal, Professor of Textile Management at The Swedish School of Textiles, is pleased that the university can be the coordinator of the project. "From the perspective of my research group, this
is incredibly interesting given the focus on the examination and development of ‘new’ supply chain and business model structures that would enable sustainable value generation in textile enterprises, industry, and for the environment and society at large. We have conducted several projects where such global north-south value chain focus is eminent, and this time particularly in workwear companies’ value chain between Scandinavia and Asia. We are delighted to contribute expertise and our experience of working internationally."

About the pre-project North-South Circular Value Chains Within Textiles, NSCirTex
The project aims to support the circular transition in the Nordics by setting up a shared governance model to enable pre-competitive collaboration and the design of circular value chains between Scandinavian workwear companies in the ÖKS-region and producers in India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Türkiye.

The next step is to achieve a multi-year main project where workwear companies with their suppliers in Asian countries, can test tailored models for shared governance as a way to develop practical circular solutions, such as post-consumer recycling, circular material procurement, develop safe and resource efficient circular products, enhance social sustainability and due diligence, among others. The main project will thus develop solutions to reduce material footprint, and resource usage while generating both commercial viability and prepare for new regulation, reporting, and accountability.

Partners in this feasibility study: University of Borås, Aalborg University Business School, and Circular Innovation Lab. The feasibility study is funded by the EU through the Interreg Öresund-Kattegat-Skagerrak European Regional Development Fund.

Source:

University of Borås, Solveig Klug

Skin contact and remote hugs via smart textiles (c) Oliver Dietze
10.04.2024

Skin contact and remote hugs via smart textiles

Smart textiles are making virtual reality more immersive and enabling wearers to experience the sensation of physical touch. An ultrathin film that can transmit touch sensations is able to turn textiles into a virtual second skin. For seriously ill children in hospital isolation wards, this new technology offers them the chance to feel the physical closeness of their parents during computer-simulated visits and to experience again the feeling of being held, hugged or cuddled.

The research team led by Professors Stefan Seelecke and Paul Motzki from Saarland University will be presenting the technology behind these smart textiles at Hannover Messe from 22 to 26 April.

Smart textiles are making virtual reality more immersive and enabling wearers to experience the sensation of physical touch. An ultrathin film that can transmit touch sensations is able to turn textiles into a virtual second skin. For seriously ill children in hospital isolation wards, this new technology offers them the chance to feel the physical closeness of their parents during computer-simulated visits and to experience again the feeling of being held, hugged or cuddled.

The research team led by Professors Stefan Seelecke and Paul Motzki from Saarland University will be presenting the technology behind these smart textiles at Hannover Messe from 22 to 26 April.

A hand on a shoulder, the stroke of an arm or a simple hug. Human touch can bring calm, comfort and closeness, a sense of safety and of being protected. When the nerve cells in our skin are stimulated by touch, numerous parts of our brain are triggered, causing immediate changes in our body's biochemistry. Hormones and signalling molecules are released, including oxytocin, which creates a sense of well-being and bonding. Video calls, on the other hand, tend to leave us cold. We miss the closeness and emotional connection that in-person meetings produce. But what happens when physical closeness is essential, when children are seriously ill, but their parents are unable to visit? When physical contact is not possible due to a weakened immune system?

An interdisciplinary research team at Saarland University, htw saar University of Applied Sciences, the Centre for Mechatronics and Automation Technology (ZeMA) and the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) is working on a technology that will enable children in hospital isolation wards to feel in a very natural way the close physical proximity of their parents during virtual visits. The 'Multi-Immerse' project is at the interface of engineering science, neurotechnology, medicine and computer science and the members of the research team are developing ways to realize multi-sensory virtual encounters between individuals. The aim is to create new technology that will allow young patients to see, hear and feel their parents and siblings in as realistic a manner as possible so that the children experience a strong sense of close physical interaction even though they are physically separated.

The research group led by Professors Stefan Seelecke and Paul Motzki at Saarland University and ZeMA in Saarbrücken is responsible for the tactile side of the project and for creating technical systems that deliver a realistic sense of touch. The Saarbrücken engineers are experts in using thin silicone films to impart novel capabilities to surfaces. They have developed films that are a mere 50 micrometres thick and that can be worn like a second skin. Just as our skin is our body's interface to the outside world, these ultrathin films are the body's interface to the virtual world. The goal is to create a lifelike sensation of touch from interactions between people in a virtual environment.

When incorporated into textiles, these high-tech films allow the child to experience being touched when the mother or father strokes a second smart textile elsewhere. 'The films, known as dielectric elastomers, act both as sensors – detecting the tactile input from mum or dad – and as actuators – that transmit these movements to the child,' explained Professor Seelecke, who heads the Intelligent Material Systems Lab at Saarland University. When functioning as a sensor, the film is able to recognize with very high precision how a hand or finger presses or stretches the film as it brushes over it. This physical deformation caused by the parent's hand is then reproduced exactly in a second textile that is in contact with the child's skin – giving the child the realistic impression of being stroked on the arm, for example.

‘A highly flexible electrically conducting layer is printed onto each side of the ultrathin film to create what is known as a dielectric elastomer. If we apply a voltage to the elastomer film, the electrodes attract each other, compressing the polymer and causing it to expand out sideways, thus increasing its surface area,' said Professor Paul Motzki, who holds a cross-institutional professorship in smart material systems for innovative production at Saarland University and at ZeMA. Even the slightest movement of the film alters its electrical capacitance, which is a physical quantity that can be precisely measured. When a finger runs over the film, the film deforms and an exact value of the electrical capacitance can be assigned to each individual position of the film. A sequence of these measured capacitance values represents the path taken by the finger as it moves. The film is therefore its own flexible sensor that can recognize how it is being deformed.

By knowing how capacitance values and film deformations correlate, the researchers can use the smart textile to transfer the stroking motion of a parent's hand to the child's arm. The research team is able to precisely control the motion of the elastomer film. By combining the capacitance data and intelligent algorithms, the team has developed a control unit that can predict and program motion sequences and thus precisely control how the elastomer film deforms. 'We can get the film to perform continuously controlled flexing motions so that it exerts increasing pressure on the skin, or we can get it to remain in a fixed position”, explained PhD student Sipontina Croce, who is carrying out doctoral research in the project. They can also create tapping movements at a specified frequency. The amplitude and frequency of the motion can be precisely regulated.

At this year's Hannover Messe, the team will be demonstrating their technology with a “watch” that has a smart film applied to its back. 'We can create chains of these smart components so that they can transmit long stroking motions. To do this, we interconnect the components so that they can communicate and cooperate collectively within a network,' explained Paul Motzki.

This smart-textile technology is inexpensive, lightweight, noiseless and energy-efficient. By providing a tactile element to computer gaming, the novel elastomer-film technology can also be used to make the gaming experience more realistic. In related projects, the engineers have used their technology to create interactive gloves for future industrial production processes, or to create the sensation of a tactile 'button' or 'slider' on flat glass display screens, which is literally bringing a new dimension to touchscreen interactions.

At this year's Hannover Messe, the experts for intelligent materials from Saarbrücken will be showcasing other developments that make use of dielectric elastomers, such as sensory shirts or shoe soles, or industrial components like pumps, vacuum pumps and high-performance actuators.

Source:

Universität des Saarlandes

textile waste AI generated image: Pete Linforth, Pixabay
02.04.2024

The Future of Circular Textiles: New Cotton Project completed

In a world first for the fashion industry, in October 2020 twelve pioneering players came together to break new ground by demonstrating a circular model for commercial garment production. Over more than three years, textile waste was collected and sorted, and regenerated into a new, man-made cellulosic fiber that looks and feels like cotton – a “new cotton” – using Infinited Fiber Company’s textile fiber regeneration technology.
 

In a world first for the fashion industry, in October 2020 twelve pioneering players came together to break new ground by demonstrating a circular model for commercial garment production. Over more than three years, textile waste was collected and sorted, and regenerated into a new, man-made cellulosic fiber that looks and feels like cotton – a “new cotton” – using Infinited Fiber Company’s textile fiber regeneration technology.
 
The pioneering New Cotton Project launched in October 2020 with the aim of demonstrating a circular value chain for commercial garment production. Through-out the project the consortium worked to collect and sort end-of-life textiles, which using pioneering Infinited Fiber technology could be regenerated into a new man-made cellulosic fibre called Infinna™ which looks and feels just like virgin cotton. The fibres were then spun into yarns and manufactured into different types of fabric which were designed, produced, and sold by adidas and H&M, making the adidas by Stella McCartney tracksuit and a H&M printed jacket and jeans the first to be produced through a collaborative circular consortium of this scale, demonstrating a more innovative and circular way of working for the fashion industry.
 
As the project completes in March 2024, the consortium highlights eight key factors they have identified as fundamental to the successful scaling of fibre-to-fibre recycling.

The wide scale adoption of circular value chains is critical to success
Textile circularity requires new forms of collaboration and open knowledge exchange among different actors in circular ecosystems. These ecosystems must involve actors beyond traditional supply chains and previously disconnected industries and sectors, such as the textile and fashion, waste collection and sorting and recycling industries, as well as digital technology, research organisations and policymakers. For the ecosystem to function effectively, different actors need to be involved in aligning priorities, goals and working methods, and to learn about the others’ needs, requirements and techno-economic possibilities. From a broader perspective, there is also a need for a more fundamental shift in mindsets and business models concerning a systemic transition toward circularity, such as moving away from the linear fast fashion business models. As well as sharing knowledge openly within such ecosystems, it also is important to openly disseminate lessons learnt and insights in order to help and inspire other actors in the industry to transition to the Circular Economy.

Circularity starts with the design process
When creating new styles, it is important to keep an end-of-life scenario in mind right from the beginning. As this will dictate what embellishments, prints, accessories can be used. If designers make it as easy as possible for the recycling process, it has the bigger chance to actually be feedstock again. In addition to this, it is important to develop business models that enable products to be used as long as possible, including repair, rental, resale, and sharing services.

Building and scaling sorting and recycling infrastructure is critical
In order to scale up circular garment production, there is a need for technological innovation and infrastructure development in end-of-use textiles collection, sorting, and the mechanical pre-processing of feedstock. Currently, much of the textiles sorting is done manually, and the available optical sorting and identification technologies are not able to identify garment layers, complex fibre blends, or which causes deviations in feedstock quality for fibre-to-fibre recycling. Feedstock preprocessing is a critical step in textile-to-textile recycling, but it is not well understood outside of the actors who actually implement it. This requires collaboration across the value chain, and it takes in-depth knowledge and skill to do it well. This is an area that needs more attention and stronger economic incentives as textile-to-textile recycling scales up.

Improving quality and availability of data is essential
There is still a significant lack of available data to support the shift towards a circular textiles industry. This is slowing down development of system level solutions and economic incentives for textile circulation. For example, quantities of textiles put on the market are often used as a proxy for quantities of post-consumer textiles, but available data is at least two years old and often incomplete. There can also be different textile waste figures at a national level that do not align, due to different methodologies or data years. This is seen in the Dutch 2018 Mass Balance study reports and 2020 Circular Textile Policy Monitoring Report, where there is a 20% difference between put on market figures and measured quantities of post-consumer textiles collected separately and present in mixed residual waste. With the exception of a few good studies such as Sorting for Circularity Europe and ReFashion’s latest characterization study, there is almost no reliable information about fibre composition in the post-consumer textile stream either. Textile-to-textile recyclers would benefit from better availability of more reliable data. Policy monitoring for Extended Producer Responsibility schemes should focus on standardising reporting requirements across Europe from post-consumer textile collection through their ultimate end point and incentivize digitization so that reporting can be automated, and high-quality textile data becomes available in near-real time.

The need for continuous research and development across the entire value chain
Overall, the New Cotton Project’s findings suggest that fabrics incorporating Infinna™ fibre offer a more sustainable alternative to traditional cotton and viscose fabrics, while maintaining similar performance and aesthetic qualities. This could have significant implications for the textile industry in terms of sustainability and lower impact production practices. However, the project also demonstrated that the scaling of fibre-to-fibre recycling will continue to require ongoing research and development across the entire value chain. For example, the need for research and development around sorting systems is crucial. Within the chemical recycling process, it is also important to ensure the high recovery rate and circulation of chemicals used to limit the environmental impact of the process. The manufacturing processes also highlighted the benefit for ongoing innovation in the processing method, requiring technologies and brands to work closely with manufacturers to support further development in the field.

Thinking beyond lower impact fibres
The New Cotton Project value chain third party verified LCA reveals that the cellulose carbamate fibre, and in particular when produced with a renewable electricity source, shows potential to lower environmental impacts compared to conventional cotton and viscose. Although, it's important to note that this comparison was made using average global datasets from Ecoinvent for cotton and viscose fibres, and there are variations in the environmental performance of primary fibres available on the market. However, the analysis also highlights the importance of the rest of the supply chain to reduce environmental impact. The findings show that even if we reduce the environmental impacts by using recycled fibres, there is still work to do in other life cycle stages. For example; garment quality and using the garment during their full life span are crucial for mitigating the environmental impacts per garment use.
          
Citizen engagement
The EU has identified culture as one of the key barriers to the adoption of the circular economy within Europe. An adidas quantitative consumer survey conducted across three key markets during the project revealed that there is still confusion around circularity in textiles, which has highlighted the importance of effective citizen communication and engagement activities.

Cohesive legislation
Legislation is a powerful tool for driving the adoption of more sustainable and circular practices in the textiles industry. With several pieces of incoming legislation within the EU alone, the need for a cohesive and harmonised approach is essential to the successful implementation of policy within the textiles industry. Considering the link between different pieces of legislation such as Extended Producer Responsibility and the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation, along with their corresponding timeline for implementation will support stakeholders from across the value chain to prepare effectively for adoption of these new regulations.

The high, and continuously growing demand for recycled materials implies that all possible end-of-use textiles must be collected and sorted. Both mechanical and chemical recycling solutions are needed to meet the demand. We should also implement effectively both paths; closed-loop (fibre-to-fibre) and open -loop recycling (fibre to other sectors). There is a critical need to reconsider the export of low-quality reusable textiles outside the EU. It would be more advantageous to reuse them in Europe, or if they are at the end of their lifetime recycle these textiles within the European internal market rather than exporting them to countries where demand is often unverified and waste management inadequate.

Overall, the learnings spotlight the need for a holistic approach and a fundamental mindset shift in ways of working for the textiles industry. Deeper collaboration and knowledge exchange is central to developing effective circular value chains, helping to support the scaling of innovative recycling technologies and increase availability of recycled fibres on the market. The further development and scaling of collecting and sorting, along with the need to address substantial gaps in the availability of quality textile flow data should be urgently prioritised. The New Cotton Project has also demonstrated the potential of recycled fibres such as Infinna™ to offer a more sustainable option to some other traditional fibres, but at the same time highlights the importance of addressing the whole value chain holistically to make greater gains in lowering environmental impact. Ongoing research and development across the entire value chain is also essential to ensure we can deliver recycled fabrics at scale in the future.

The New Cotton Project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101000559.

 

Source:

Fashion for Good

Image: Udo Jandrey
22.03.2024

New model for sustainable structures of textile-reinforced concrete

By reinforcing concrete with textiles instead of steel, it is possible to use less material and create slender, lightweight structures with a significantly lower environmental impact. The technology to utilise carbon fibre textiles already exists, but it has been challenging, among other things, to produce a basis for reliable calculations for complex and vaulted structures. Researchers from Chalmers University of Technology, in Sweden, are now presenting a method that makes it easier to scale up analyses and thus facilitate the construction of more environmentally friendly bridges, tunnels and buildings.

By reinforcing concrete with textiles instead of steel, it is possible to use less material and create slender, lightweight structures with a significantly lower environmental impact. The technology to utilise carbon fibre textiles already exists, but it has been challenging, among other things, to produce a basis for reliable calculations for complex and vaulted structures. Researchers from Chalmers University of Technology, in Sweden, are now presenting a method that makes it easier to scale up analyses and thus facilitate the construction of more environmentally friendly bridges, tunnels and buildings.

"A great deal of the concrete we use today has the function to act as a protective layer to prevent the steel reinforcement from corroding. If we can use textile reinforcement instead, we can reduce cement consumption and also use less concrete − and thus reduce the climate impact," says Karin Lundgren, who is Professor in Concrete Structures at the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering at Chalmers.

Cement is a binder in concrete and its production from limestone has a large impact on the climate. One of the problems is that large amounts of carbon dioxide that have been sequestered in the limestone are released during production. Every year, about 4.5 billion tonnes of cement are produced in the world and the cement industry accounts for about 8 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Intensive work is therefore underway to find alternative methods and materials for concrete structures.

Reduced carbon footprint with thinner constructions and alternative binders
By using alternative binders instead of cement, such as clay or volcanic ash, it is possible to further reduce carbon dioxide emissions. But so far, it is unclear how well such new binders can protect steel reinforcement in the long term.

"You could get away from the issue of corrosion protection, by using carbon-fibres as reinforcement material instead of steel, because it doesn't need to be protected in the same way. You can also gain even more by optimising thin shell structures with a lower climate impact," says Karin Lundgren.

In a recently published study in the journal Construction and Building Materials, Karin Lundgren and her colleagues describe a new modelling technique that was proved to be reliable in analyses describing how textile reinforcement interacts with concrete.

"What we have done is to develop a method that facilitates the calculation work of complex structures and reduces the need for testing of the load-bearing capacity," says Karin Lundgren.

One area where textile reinforcement technology could significantly reduce the environmental impact is in the construction of arched floors. Since the majority of a building’s climate impact during production comes from the floor structures, it is an effective way to build more sustainably. A previous research study from the University of Cambridge shows that textile reinforcement can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 65 percent compared to traditional solid floors.

Method that facilitates calculations
A textile reinforcement mesh consists of yarns, where each yarn consists of thousands of thin filaments (long continuous fibres). The reinforcement mesh is cast into concrete, and when the textile-reinforced concrete is loaded, the filaments slip both against the concrete and against each other inside the yarn. A textile yarn in concrete does not behave as a unit, which is important when you want to understand the composite material's ability to carry loads. The modelling technique developed by the Chalmers researchers describes these effects.

"You could describe it as the yarn consisting of an inner and an outer core, which is affected to varying degrees when the concrete is loaded. We developed a test and calculation method that describes this interaction. In experiments, we were able to show that our way of calculating is reliable enough even for complex structures," says Karin Lundgren.

The work together with colleagues is now continuing to develop optimisation methods for larger structures.

"Given that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) expects the total floor area in the world to double over the next 40 years due to increased prosperity and population growth, we must do everything we can to build as resource-efficiently as possible to meet the climate challenge," says Karin Lundgren.

Source:

Chalmers | Mia Halleröd Palmgren

Smart glove teaches new physical skills Image: Alex Shipps/MIT CSAIL
18.03.2024

Smart glove teaches new physical skills

Adaptive smart glove from MIT CSAIL researchers can send tactile feedback to teach users new skills, guide robots with more precise manipulation, and help train surgeons and pilots.

You’ve likely met someone who identifies as a visual or auditory learner, but others absorb knowledge through a different modality: touch. Being able to understand tactile interactions is especially important for tasks such as learning delicate surgeries and playing musical instruments, but unlike video and audio, touch is difficult to record and transfer.

Adaptive smart glove from MIT CSAIL researchers can send tactile feedback to teach users new skills, guide robots with more precise manipulation, and help train surgeons and pilots.

You’ve likely met someone who identifies as a visual or auditory learner, but others absorb knowledge through a different modality: touch. Being able to understand tactile interactions is especially important for tasks such as learning delicate surgeries and playing musical instruments, but unlike video and audio, touch is difficult to record and transfer.

To tap into this challenge, researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and elsewhere developed an embroidered smart glove that can capture, reproduce, and relay touch-based instructions. To complement the wearable device, the team also developed a simple machine-learning agent that adapts to how different users react to tactile feedback, optimizing their experience. The new system could potentially help teach people physical skills, improve responsive robot teleoperation, and assist with training in virtual reality.

Will I be able to play the piano?
To create their smart glove, the researchers used a digital embroidery machine to seamlessly embed tactile sensors and haptic actuators (a device that provides touch-based feedback) into textiles. This technology is present in smartphones, where haptic responses are triggered by tapping on the touch screen. For example, if you press down on an iPhone app, you’ll feel a slight vibration coming from that specific part of your screen. In the same way, the new adaptive wearable sends feedback to different parts of your hand to indicate optimal motions to execute different skills.

The smart glove could teach users how to play the piano, for instance. In a demonstration, an expert was tasked with recording a simple tune over a section of keys, using the smart glove to capture the sequence by which they pressed their fingers to the keyboard. Then, a machine-learning agent converted that sequence into haptic feedback, which was then fed into the students’ gloves to follow as instructions. With their hands hovering over that same section, actuators vibrated on the fingers corresponding to the keys below. The pipeline optimizes these directions for each user, accounting for the subjective nature of touch interactions.

“Humans engage in a wide variety of tasks by constantly interacting with the world around them,” says Yiyue Luo MS ’20, lead author of the paper, PhD student in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), and CSAIL affiliate. “We don’t usually share these physical interactions with others. Instead, we often learn by observing their movements, like with piano-playing and dance routines.

“The main challenge in relaying tactile interactions is that everyone perceives haptic feedback differently,” adds Luo. “This roadblock inspired us to develop a machine-learning agent that learns to generate adaptive haptics for individuals’ gloves, introducing them to a more hands-on approach to learning optimal motion.”

The wearable system is customized to fit the specifications of a user’s hand via a digital fabrication method. A computer produces a cutout based on individuals’ hand measurements, then an embroidery machine stitches the sensors and haptics in. Within 10 minutes, the soft, fabric-based wearable is ready to wear. Initially trained on 12 users’ haptic responses, its adaptive machine-learning model only needs 15 seconds of new user data to personalize feedback.

In two other experiments, tactile directions with time-sensitive feedback were transferred to users sporting the gloves while playing laptop games. In a rhythm game, the players learned to follow a narrow, winding path to bump into a goal area, and in a racing game, drivers collected coins and maintained the balance of their vehicle on their way to the finish line. Luo’s team found that participants earned the highest game scores through optimized haptics, as opposed to without haptics and with unoptimized haptics.

“This work is the first step to building personalized AI agents that continuously capture data about the user and the environment,” says senior author Wojciech Matusik, MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science and head of the Computational Design and Fabrication Group within CSAIL. “These agents then assist them in performing complex tasks, learning new skills, and promoting better behaviors.”

Bringing a lifelike experience to electronic settings
In robotic teleoperation, the researchers found that their gloves could transfer force sensations to robotic arms, helping them complete more delicate grasping tasks. “It’s kind of like trying to teach a robot to behave like a human,” says Luo. In one instance, the MIT team used human teleoperators to teach a robot how to secure different types of bread without deforming them. By teaching optimal grasping, humans could precisely control the robotic systems in environments like manufacturing, where these machines could collaborate more safely and effectively with their operators.

“The technology powering the embroidered smart glove is an important innovation for robots,” says Daniela Rus, the Andrew (1956) and Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, CSAIL director, and author on the paper. “With its ability to capture tactile interactions at high resolution, akin to human skin, this sensor enables robots to perceive the world through touch. The seamless integration of tactile sensors into textiles bridges the divide between physical actions and digital feedback, offering vast potential in responsive robot teleoperation and immersive virtual reality training.”

Likewise, the interface could create more immersive experiences in virtual reality. Wearing smart gloves would add tactile sensations to digital environments in video games, where gamers could feel around their surroundings to avoid obstacles. Additionally, the interface would provide a more personalized and touch-based experience in virtual training courses used by surgeons, firefighters, and pilots, where precision is paramount.

While these wearables could provide a more hands-on experience for users, Luo and her group believe they could extend their wearable technology beyond fingers. With stronger haptic feedback, the interfaces could guide feet, hips, and other body parts less sensitive than hands.

Luo also noted that with a more complex artificial intelligence agent, her team's technology could assist with more involved tasks, like manipulating clay or driving an airplane. Currently, the interface can only assist with simple motions like pressing a key or gripping an object. In the future, the MIT system could incorporate more user data and fabricate more conformal and tight wearables to better account for how hand movements impact haptic perceptions.

Luo, Matusik, and Rus authored the paper with EECS Microsystems Technology Laboratories Director and Professor Tomás Palacios; CSAIL members Chao Liu, Young Joong Lee, Joseph DelPreto, Michael Foshey, and professor and principal investigator Antonio Torralba; Kiu Wu of LightSpeed Studios; and Yunzhu Li of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The work was supported, in part, by an MIT Schwarzman College of Computing Fellowship via Google and a GIST-MIT Research Collaboration grant, with additional help from Wistron, Toyota Research Institute, and Ericsson.

Source:

Alex Shipps, MIT CSAIL

Empa researcher Simon Annaheim is working to develop a mattress for newborn babies. Image: Empa
11.03.2024

Medical textiles and sensors: Smart protection for delicate skin

Skin injuries caused by prolonged pressure often occur in people who are unable to change their position independently – such as sick newborns in hospitals or elderly people. Thanks to successful partnerships with industry and research, Empa scientists are now launching two smart solutions for pressure sores.

If too much pressure is applied to our skin over a long period of time, it becomes damaged. Populations at high risk of such pressure injuries include people in wheelchairs, newborns in intensive care units and the elderly. The consequences are wounds, infections and pain.

Skin injuries caused by prolonged pressure often occur in people who are unable to change their position independently – such as sick newborns in hospitals or elderly people. Thanks to successful partnerships with industry and research, Empa scientists are now launching two smart solutions for pressure sores.

If too much pressure is applied to our skin over a long period of time, it becomes damaged. Populations at high risk of such pressure injuries include people in wheelchairs, newborns in intensive care units and the elderly. The consequences are wounds, infections and pain.

Treatment is complex and expensive: Healthcare costs of around 300 million Swiss francs are incurred every year. "In addition, existing illnesses can be exacerbated by such pressure injuries," says Empa researcher Simon Annaheim from the Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles laboratory in St. Gallen. According to Annaheim, it would be more sustainable to prevent tissue damage from occurring in the first place. Two current research projects involving Empa researchers are now advancing solutions: A pressure-equalizing mattress for newborns in intensive care units and a textile sensor system for paraplegics and bedridden people are being developed.

Optimally nestled at the start of life
The demands of our skin are completely different depending on age: In adults, the friction of the skin on the lying surface, physical shear forces in the tissue and the lack of breathability of textiles are the main risk factors. In contrast, the skin of newborns receiving intensive care is extremely sensitive per se, and any loss of fluid and heat through the skin can become a problem. "While these particularly vulnerable babies are being nursed back to health, the lying situation should not cause any additional complications," says Annaheim. He thinks conventional mattresses are not appropriate for newborns with very different weights and various illnesses. Annaheim's team is therefore working with researchers from ETH Zurich, the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) and the University Children's Hospital Zurich to find an optimal lying surface for babies' delicate skin. This mattress should be able to adapt individually to the body in order to help children with a difficult start in life.

In order to do this, the researchers first determined the pressure conditions in the various regions of the newborn's body. "Our pressure sensors showed that the head, shoulders and lower spine are the areas with the greatest risk of pressure sores," says Annaheim. These findings were incorporated into the development of a special kind of air-filled mattress: With the help of pressure sensors and a microprocessor, its three chambers can be filled precisely via an electronic pump so that the pressure in the respective areas is minimized. An infrared laser process developed at Empa made it possible to produce the mattress from a flexible, multi-layered polymer membrane that is gentle on the skin and has no irritating seams.

After a multi-stage development process in the laboratory, the first small patients were allowed to lie on the prototype mattress. The effect was immediately noticeable when the researchers filled the mattress with air to varying degrees depending on the individual needs of the babies: Compared to a conventional foam mattress, the prototype reduced the pressure on the vulnerable parts of the body by up to 40 percent.

Following this successful pilot study, the prototype is now being optimized in the Empa labs. Simon Annaheim and doctoral student Tino Jucker will soon be starting a larger-scale study with the new mattress with the Department of Intensive Care Medicine & Neonatology at University Children's Hospital Zurich.

Intelligent sensors prevent injuries
In another project, Empa researchers are working on preventing so-called pressure ulcer tissue damage in adults. This involves converting the risk factors of pressure and circulatory disorders into helpful warning signals.

If you lie in the same position for a long time, pressure and circulatory problems lead to an undersupply of oxygen to the tissue. While the lack of oxygen triggers a reflex to move in healthy people, this neurological feedback loop can be disrupted in people with paraplegia or coma patients, for example. Here, smart sensors can help to provide early warning of the risk of tissue damage.

In the ProTex project, a team of researchers from Empa, the University of Bern, the OST University of Applied Sciences and Bischoff Textil AG in St. Gallen has developed a sensor system made of smart textiles with associated data analysis in real time. "The skin-compatible textile sensors contain two different functional polymer fibers," says Luciano Boesel from Empa's Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles laboratory in St. Gallen. In addition to pressure-sensitive fibers, the researchers integrated light-conducting polymer fibers (POFs), which are used to measure oxygen. "As soon as the oxygen content in the skin drops, the highly sensitive sensor system signals an increasing risk of tissue damage," explains Boesel. The data is then transmitted directly to the patient or to the nursing staff. This means, for instance, that a lying person can be repositioned in good time before the tissue is damaged.

Patented technology
The technology behind this also includes a novel microfluidic wet spinning process developed at Empa for the production of POFs. It allows precise control of the polymer components in the micrometer range and smoother, more environmentally friendly processing of the fibers. The microfluidic process is one of three patents that have emerged from the ProTex project to date.

Another product is a breathable textile sensor that is worn directly on the skin. The spin-off Sensawear in Bern, which emerged from the project in 2023, is currently pushing ahead with the market launch. Empa researcher Boesel is also convinced: "The findings and technologies from ProTex will enable further applications in the field of wearable sensor technology and smart clothing in the future."

Source:

Dr. Andrea Six, Empa

Feathers from waterfowl (c) Daunen- und Federnverbände Mainz
05.03.2024

Adhesives: Feathers replace petroleum

Adhesives are almost always based on fossil raw materials such as petroleum. Researchers at Fraunhofer have recently developed a process that allows to utilize keratin for this purpose. This highly versatile protein compound can be found, for instance, in chicken feathers. Not only can it be used to manufacture a host of different adhesives for a variety of applications, but the processes and end products are also sustainable and follow the basic principles underlying a bioinspired circular economy. The project, developed together with Henkel AG & Co. KGaA, addresses a billion-dollar market.

Adhesives are almost always based on fossil raw materials such as petroleum. Researchers at Fraunhofer have recently developed a process that allows to utilize keratin for this purpose. This highly versatile protein compound can be found, for instance, in chicken feathers. Not only can it be used to manufacture a host of different adhesives for a variety of applications, but the processes and end products are also sustainable and follow the basic principles underlying a bioinspired circular economy. The project, developed together with Henkel AG & Co. KGaA, addresses a billion-dollar market.

Adhesives are found nearly everywhere: in sports shoes, smartphones, floor coverings, furniture, textiles or packaging. Even auto windshields are glued into place using adhesives. Experts recognize more than 1,000 different types of adhesives. These can bond almost every imaginable material to another. Adhesives weigh very little and so lend themselves to lightweight design. Surfaces bonded with adhesive do not warp because, unlike with screw fastenings, the load is distributed evenly. Adhesives do not rust, and seal out moisture. Surfaces bonded with adhesive are also less susceptible to vibration. Added to which, adhesives are inexpensive and relatively easy to work with.

Feathers from poultry meat production
Traditionally, adhesives have almost always been made from fossil raw materials such as petroleum. The Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB has recently adopted a different approach. Researchers there have been using feathers as a base material instead of petroleum. Feathers are a by-product of poultry meat production. They are destroyed or mixed into animal feed. But feathers are far too valuable to go to waste because they contain the structural protein keratin. This biopolymer is found in animals and makes up talons, claws, hooves or feathers. Its fibrous structure is extremely strong.

Why keratin is perfect for manufacturing adhesives
Keratin is a biodegradable and thus eco-friendly material whose structure has specific properties that make it particularly suitable for the manufacture of adhesives. Keratin's polymer structure, i.e., its very long-chain molecules, as well as its ability to undergo cross-linking reactions predestine it for the manufacture of various adhesives. “The properties required for adhesives are to some extent already inherent in the base material and only need to be unlocked, modified and activated,” explains project manager Dr. Michael Richter.

Platform chemical and specialty adhesives
Over the past three years, Fraunhofer IGB has been working with Henkel AG & Co. KGaA on the KERAbond project: “Specialty chemicals from customized functional keratin proteins” — Kera being short for keratin, combined with the English word bond. Henkel is a global market leader in the adhesives sector.

The partners in the project have recently developed and refined a new process. In the first stage, feathers received from the slaughterhouse are sterilized, washed and mechanically shredded. Next, an enzyme process splits the long-chain biopolymers or protein chains into short-chain polymers by means of hydrolysis.

The output product is a platform chemical that can serve as a base material for further development of specially formulated adhesives. “We use the process      and the platform chemical as a “toolbox” to integrate bio-enhanced properties into the end product,” says Richter. This means parameters can be specified for the target special adhesive such as curing time, elasticity, thermal properties or strength. Also, it’s not just adhesives that are easy to manufacture but also related substances such as hardeners, coatings or primers.

In the next stage, the Fraunhofer team set about converting the feathers on a large scale. Ramping up the process fell to the Fraunhofer Center for Chemical-Biotechnological Processes CBP in Leuna. The aim was to prove that the keratin-based platform chemicals can also be manufactured cost-efficiently on an industrial scale. This involved processing several kilograms of chicken feathers, with the material produced being used for promising initial material trials at Fraunhofer IGB and Henkel.

Foundations of a bioinspired economy
This bioinspired process is of particular significance for the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. Biotechnology is in fact one of the main fields of research for the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft: “We draw our inspiration from functionality or properties that already exist in nature or in natural raw materials. And we attempt to translate these properties into products through innovative manufacturing methods. This generates a bioinspired cycle for valuable raw materials, Richter explains.

The project carries some economic weight. According to Statista, around one million tons of adhesives were manufactured in Germany alone in 2019. Total value is around 1.87 billion euros.

A patent application has been filed for the new process and an article published in a scientific journal. Two PhD students who have conducted extensive research on the project at Henkel and Fraunhofer are expected to complete their theses in the first quarter of 2024. This new keratin-based technology will allow a host of platform chemicals to be produced in a sustainable, bioinspired way.

The KERAbond project has been funded and supported over the past three years by Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe (FNR) in Gülzow on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) under the Renewable Resources Funding funding program (grant number 22014218).

Source:

Fraunhofer IBG

Photo: guentherlig, Pixabay
01.03.2024

The most tasteful kind of coating

Tiny external structures in the wax coating of blueberries give them their blue colour, researchers at the University of Bristol can reveal. This applies to lots of fruits that are the same colour including damsons, sloes and juniper berries.

In the study, published in Science Advances, researchers show why blueberries are blue despite the dark red colour of the pigments in the fruit skin. Their blue colour is instead provided by a layer of wax that surrounds the fruit which is made up of miniature structures that scatter blue and UV light. This gives blueberries their blue appearance to humans and blue-UV to birds. The chromatic blue-UV reflectance arises from the interaction of the randomly arranged crystal structures of the epicuticular wax with light.

Tiny external structures in the wax coating of blueberries give them their blue colour, researchers at the University of Bristol can reveal. This applies to lots of fruits that are the same colour including damsons, sloes and juniper berries.

In the study, published in Science Advances, researchers show why blueberries are blue despite the dark red colour of the pigments in the fruit skin. Their blue colour is instead provided by a layer of wax that surrounds the fruit which is made up of miniature structures that scatter blue and UV light. This gives blueberries their blue appearance to humans and blue-UV to birds. The chromatic blue-UV reflectance arises from the interaction of the randomly arranged crystal structures of the epicuticular wax with light.

Rox Middleton, Research Fellow at Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences, explained: “The blue of blueberries can’t be ‘extracted’ by squishing – because it isn’t located in the pigmented juice that can be squeezed from the fruit. That was why we knew that there must be something strange about the colour.

“So we removed the wax and re-crystallised it on card and in doing so we were able to create a brand new blue-UV coating.”

The ultra-thin colourant is around two microns thick, and although less reflective, it’s visibly blue and reflects UV well, possibly paving the way for new colorant methods.

“It shows that nature has evolved to use a really neat trick, an ultrathin layer for an important colorant," added Rox.

Most plants are coated in a thin layer of wax which has multiple functions, many of them that scientists still don’t understand. They know that it can be very effective as a hydrophobic, self-cleaning coating.

However until now, researchers did not know how important the structure was for visible colouration.

Now the team plan to look at easier ways of recreating the coating and applying it. This could lead to a more sustainable, biocompatible and even edible UV and blue-reflective paint.

Furthermore these coatings could have the same multiple functions as natural biological ones that protect plants.

Rox added: “It was really interesting to find that there was an unknown coloration mechanism right under our noses, on popular fruits that we grow and eat all the time.

“It was even more exciting to be able to reproduce that colour by harvesting the wax to make a new blue coating that no-one’s seen before.

“Building all that functionality of this natural wax into artificially engineered materials is the dream!”

Source:

Bristol University

Paper: ‘Self-assembled, Disordered Structural Colour from Fruit Wax Bloom’ by Rox Middleton et al in Science Advances.

(c) RMIT University
26.02.2024

Cooling down with Nanodiamonds

Researchers from RMIT University are using nanodiamonds to create smart textiles that can cool people down faster.

The study found fabric made from cotton coated with nanodiamonds, using a method called electrospinning, showed a reduction of 2-3 degrees Celsius during the cooling down process compared to untreated cotton. They do this by drawing out body heat and releasing it from the fabric – a result of the incredible thermal conductivity of nanodiamonds.

Published in Polymers for Advanced Technologies, project lead and Senior Lecturer, Dr Shadi Houshyar, said there was a big opportunity to use these insights to create new textiles for sportswear and even personal protective clothing, such as underlayers to keep fire fighters cool.

The study also found nanodiamonds increased the UV protection of cotton, making it ideal for outdoor summer clothing.

Researchers from RMIT University are using nanodiamonds to create smart textiles that can cool people down faster.

The study found fabric made from cotton coated with nanodiamonds, using a method called electrospinning, showed a reduction of 2-3 degrees Celsius during the cooling down process compared to untreated cotton. They do this by drawing out body heat and releasing it from the fabric – a result of the incredible thermal conductivity of nanodiamonds.

Published in Polymers for Advanced Technologies, project lead and Senior Lecturer, Dr Shadi Houshyar, said there was a big opportunity to use these insights to create new textiles for sportswear and even personal protective clothing, such as underlayers to keep fire fighters cool.

The study also found nanodiamonds increased the UV protection of cotton, making it ideal for outdoor summer clothing.

“While 2 or 3 degrees may not seem like much of a change, it does make a difference in comfort and health impacts over extended periods and in practical terms, could be the difference between keeping your air conditioner off or turning it on,” Houshyar said. “There’s also potential to explore how nanodiamonds can be used to protect buildings from overheating, which can lead to environmental benefits.”

The use of this fabric in clothing was projected to lead to a 20-30% energy saving due to lower use of air conditioning.

Based in the Centre for Materials Innovation and Future Fashion (CMIFF), the research team is made up of RMIT engineers and textile researchers who have strong expertise in developing next-generation smart textiles, as well as working with industry to develop realistic solutions.

Contrary to popular belief, nanodiamonds are not the same as the diamonds that adorn jewellery, said Houshyar. “They’re actually cheap to make — cheaper than graphene oxide and other types of carbon materials,” she said. “While they have a carbon lattice structure, they are much smaller in size. They’re also easy to make using methods like detonation or from waste materials.”

How it works
Cotton material was first coated with an adhesive, then electrospun with a polymer solution made from nanodiamonds, polyurethane and solvent.

This process creates a web of nanofibres on the cotton fibres, which are then cured to bond the two.

Lead researcher and research assistant, Dr Aisha Rehman, said the coating with nanodiamonds was deliberately applied to only one side of the fabric to restrict heat in the atmosphere from transferring back to the body.  

“The side of the fabric with the nanodiamond coating is what touches the skin. The nanodiamonds then transfer heat from the body into the air,” said Rehman, who worked on the study as part of her PhD. “Because nanodiamonds are such good thermal conductors, it does it faster than untreated fabric.”

Nanodiamonds were chosen for this study because of their strong thermal conductivity properties, said Rehman. Often used in IT, nanodiamonds can also help improve thermal properties of liquids and gels, as well as increase corrosive resistance in metals.

“Nanodiamonds are also biocompatible, so they’re safe for the human body. Therefore, it has great potential not just in textiles, but also in the biomedical field,” Rehman said.

While the research was still preliminary, Houshyar said this method of coating nanofibres onto textiles had strong commercial potential.
 
“This electrospinning approach is straightforward and can significantly reduce the variety of manufacturing steps compared to previously tested methods, which feature lengthy processes and wastage of nanodiamonds,” Houshyar said.

Further research will study the durability of the nanofibres, especially during the washing process.

Source:

Shu Shu Zheng, RMIT University

wind energy Photo: Carlos / Saigon - Vietnam, Pixabay
21.02.2024

Composites' hopes are pinned on wind energy and aviation sectors

Composites Germany - Results of the 22nd Composites Market Survey

  • Critical assessment of the current business situation
  • Future expectations brighten
  • Investment climate remains subdued
  • Different expectations of application industries
  • Growth drivers with slight shifts
  • Composites index points in different directions

For the 22nd time, Composites Germany has collected current key figures on the market for fiber-reinforced plastics. All member companies of the supporting associations of Composites Germany: AVK and Composites United as well as the associated partner VDMA were surveyed.
In order to ensure that the different surveys can be compared without any problems, no fundamental changes were made to the survey. Once again, mainly qualitative data was collected in relation to current and future market developments.

Composites Germany - Results of the 22nd Composites Market Survey

  • Critical assessment of the current business situation
  • Future expectations brighten
  • Investment climate remains subdued
  • Different expectations of application industries
  • Growth drivers with slight shifts
  • Composites index points in different directions

For the 22nd time, Composites Germany has collected current key figures on the market for fiber-reinforced plastics. All member companies of the supporting associations of Composites Germany: AVK and Composites United as well as the associated partner VDMA were surveyed.
In order to ensure that the different surveys can be compared without any problems, no fundamental changes were made to the survey. Once again, mainly qualitative data was collected in relation to current and future market developments.

Critical assessment of the current business situation
After consistently positive trends were seen in the assessment of the current business situation in 2021, this has slipped since 2022. There is still no sign of a trend reversal in the current survey. The reasons for the negative sentiment are manifold and were already evident in the last survey.

At present, politicians do not seem to be able to create a more positive environment for the industry with appropriate measures. Overall, Germany in particular, but also Europe, is currently experiencing a very difficult market environment.

However, the main drivers of the current difficult situation are likely to be the persistently high energy and commodity/raw material prices. In addition, there are still problems in individual areas of the logistics chains, for example on the main trade/container routes, as well as a cautious consumer climate. A slowdown in global trade and uncertainties in the political arena are currently fueling the negative mood in the market.

Despite rising registration figures, the automotive industry, the most important application area for composites, has not yet returned to its former volume. The construction industry, the second most important key area of application, is currently in crisis. Although the order books are still well filled, new orders are often failing to materialize. High interest rates and material costs coupled with the high cost of living are having a particularly negative impact on private construction, but public construction is also currently unable to achieve the targets it has set itself. According to the ZDB (Zentralverband Deutsches Baugewerbe), the forecasts in this important sector remain gloomy: "The decline in the construction industry is continuing. Turnover will fall by 5.3% in real terms this year and we expect a further 3% drop next year. Residential construction remains responsible for the decline, which will slump by 11% in real terms this year and continue its downward trajectory at -13% in 2024."

It is not only the assessment of the general business situation that remains pessimistic. The situation of their own companies also continues to be viewed critically. The picture is particularly negative for Germany. Almost 50% of respondents are critical of the current business situation in Germany. The view of global business and Europe is somewhat more positive. Here, "only" 40% and 35% of respondents respectively assess the situation rather negatively.

Future expectations brighten
Despite the generally rather subdued assessment of the business situation, many of those surveyed appear to be convinced that the mood is improving, at least in Europe. When asked about their assessment of future general business development, the values for Europe and the world are more optimistic than in the last survey. The survey participants do not currently expect the situation in Germany to improve.

Respondents were more optimistic about their own company's future expectations for Europe and the global market.

The participants seem to be assuming a moderate short to medium-term recovery of the global economy. The forecasts are more optimistic than the assessment of the current situation. It is striking that the view of the German region is more critical in relation to Europe and the global economy. 28% of those surveyed expect the general market situation in Germany to develop negatively. Only 13% expect the current situation to improve. The figures for Europe and the world are better.

Investment climate remains subdued
The current rather cautious assessment of the economic situation continues to have an impact on the investment climate.

While 22% of participants in the last survey still assumed an increase in personnel capacity (survey 1/2023 = 40%), this figure is currently only 18%. In contrast, 18% even expect a decrease in personnel.

The proportion of respondents planning to invest in machinery is also declining. While 56% of respondents in the last survey still expected to make such investments, this figure has now fallen to 46%.

Different expectations of application industries
The composites market is characterized by a high degree of heterogeneity in terms of both materials and applications. In the survey, the participants are asked to give their assessment of the market development of different core areas.

The expectations are extremely varied. The two most important application areas are the mobility and construction/infrastructure sectors. Both are currently undergoing major upheavals or are affected by declines, which is also clearly reflected in the survey. Growth is expected above all in the wind energy and aviation sectors.

Growth drivers with slight shifts
In terms of materials, there has been a change in the assessment of growth drivers. While the respondents in the last 9 surveys always named GRP as the material from which the main growth impetus for the composites sector is to be expected, the main impetus is now once again expected to come from CFRP or across all materials.

There is a slight regional shift. Germany is seen less strongly as a growth driver. In contrast, Europe (excluding Germany) and Asia are mentioned significantly more.

Composites index points in different directions
The numerous negative influences of recent times continue to be reflected in the overall Composites Index. This continues to fall, particularly when looking at the current business situation. On the other hand, there is a slight improvement in expectations for future market development, although this remains at a low level.

The total volume of processed composites in Europe in 2022 was already declining, and a further decline must also be expected for 2023. This is likely to be around 5% again.

It remains to be seen whether it will be possible to counteract the negative trend. Targeted intervention, including by political decision-makers, would be desirable here. However, this cannot succeed without industry/business. Only together will it be possible to maintain and strengthen Germany as a business/industry location. For composites as a material group in general, there are still very good opportunities to expand the market position in both new and existing markets due to the special portfolio of properties. However, the dependency on macroeconomic developments remains. It is now important to develop new market areas through innovation, to consistently exploit opportunities and to work together to further implement composites in existing markets. This can often be achieved better together than alone. With its excellent network, Composites Germany offers a wide range of opportunities.

The next composites market survey will be published in July 2024.

Source:

Composites Germany

Wearable Robots for Parkinson’s Disease Image: Tom Claes, unsplash
19.02.2024

Wearable Robots for Parkinson’s Disease

Freezing is one of the most common and debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that affects more than 9 million people worldwide. When individuals with Parkinson’s disease freeze, they suddenly lose the ability to move their feet, often mid-stride, resulting in a series of staccato stutter steps that get shorter until the person stops altogether. These episodes are one of the biggest contributors to falls among people living with Parkinson’s disease.

Today, freezing is treated with a range of pharmacological, surgical or behavioral therapies, none of which are particularly effective. What if there was a way to stop freezing altogether?

Freezing is one of the most common and debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that affects more than 9 million people worldwide. When individuals with Parkinson’s disease freeze, they suddenly lose the ability to move their feet, often mid-stride, resulting in a series of staccato stutter steps that get shorter until the person stops altogether. These episodes are one of the biggest contributors to falls among people living with Parkinson’s disease.

Today, freezing is treated with a range of pharmacological, surgical or behavioral therapies, none of which are particularly effective. What if there was a way to stop freezing altogether?

Researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Boston University Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences have used a soft, wearable robot to help a person living with Parkinson’s walk without freezing. The robotic garment, worn around the hips and thighs, gives a gentle push to the hips as the leg swings, helping the patient achieve a longer stride.

The device completely eliminated the participant’s freezing while walking indoors, allowing them to walk faster and further than they could without the garment’s help.

“We found that just a small amount of mechanical assistance from our soft robotic apparel delivered instan-taneous effects and consistently improved walking across a range of conditions for the individual in our study,” said Conor Walsh, the Paul A. Maeder Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at SEAS and co-corresponding author of the study.

The research demonstrates the potential of soft robotics to treat this frustrating and potentially dangerous symptom of Parkinson’s disease and could allow people living with the disease to regain not only their mobility but their independence.

For over a decade, Walsh’s Biodesign Lab at SEAS has been developing assistive and rehabilitative robotic technologies to improve mobility for individuals’ post-stroke and those living with ALS or other diseases that impact mobility. Some of that technology, specifically an exosuit for post-stroke gait retraining, received support from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, and Harvard’s Office of Technology Development coordinated a license agreement with ReWalk Robotics to commercialize the technology.

In 2022, SEAS and Sargent College received a grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative to support the development and translation of next-generation robotics and wearable technologies. The research is centered at the Move Lab, whose mission is to support advances in human performance enhancement with the collaborative space, funding, R&D infrastructure, and experience necessary to turn promising research into mature technologies that can be translated through collaboration with industry partners. This research emerged from that partnership.

“Leveraging soft wearable robots to prevent freezing of gait in patients with Parkinson’s required a collaboration between engineers, rehabilitation scientists, physical therapists, biomechanists and apparel designers,” said Walsh, whose team collaborated closely with that of Terry Ellis,  Professor and Physical Therapy Department Chair and Director of the Center for Neurorehabilitation at Boston University.

Leveraging soft wearable robots to prevent freezing of gait in patients with Parkinson’s required a collaboration between engineers, rehabilitation scientists, physical therapists, biomechanists and apparel designers.

The team spent six months working with a 73-year-old man with Parkinson’s disease, who — despite using both surgical and pharmacologic treatments — endured substantial and incapacitating freezing episodes more than 10 times a day, causing him to fall frequently. These episodes prevented him from walking around his community and forced him to rely on a scooter to get around outside.

In previous research, Walsh and his team leveraged human-in-the-loop optimization to demonstrate that a soft, wearable device could be used to augment hip flexion and assist in swinging the leg forward to provide an efficient approach to reduce energy expenditure during walking in healthy individuals.

Here, the researchers used the same approach but to address freezing. The wearable device uses cable-driven actuators and sensors worn around the waist and thighs. Using motion data collected by the sensors, algorithms estimate the phase of the gait and generate assistive forces in tandem with muscle movement.

The effect was instantaneous. Without any special training, the patient was able to walk without any freezing indoors and with only occasional episodes outdoors. He was also able to walk and talk without freezing, a rarity without the device.

“Our team was really excited to see the impact of the technology on the participant’s walking,” said Jinsoo Kim, former PhD student at SEAS and co-lead author on the study.

During the study visits, the participant told researchers: “The suit helps me take longer steps and when it is not active, I notice I drag my feet much more. It has really helped me, and I feel it is a positive step forward. It could help me to walk longer and maintain the quality of my life.”

“Our study participants who volunteer their time are real partners,” said Walsh. “Because mobility is difficult, it was a real challenge for this individual to even come into the lab, but we benefited so much from his perspective and feedback.”

The device could also be used to better understand the mechanisms of gait freezing, which is poorly understood.

“Because we don’t really understand freezing, we don’t really know why this approach works so well,” said Ellis. “But this work suggests the potential benefits of a ’bottom-up’ rather than ’top-down’ solution to treating gait freezing. We see that restoring almost-normal biomechanics alters the peripheral dynamics of gait and may influence the central processing of gait control.”

The research was co-authored by Jinsoo Kim, Franchino Porciuncula, Hee Doo Yang, Nicholas Wendel, Teresa Baker and Andrew Chin. Asa Eckert-Erdheim and Dorothy Orzel also contributed to the design of the technology, as well as Ada Huang, and Sarah Sullivan managed the clinical research. It was supported by the National Science Foundation under grant CMMI-1925085; the National Institutes of Health under grant NIH U01 TR002775; and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, Collaborative Research and Development Matching Grant.

Source:

The research is published in Nature Medicine.
Source Leah Burrows
Harvard John A. Paulson. School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Researchers led by Bernd Nowack have investigated the release of nanoparticles during the washing of polyester textiles. Image: Empa Image: Empa
14.02.2024

Release of oligomers from polyester textiles

When nanoplastics are not what they seem ... Textiles made of synthetic fibers release micro- and nanoplastics during washing. Empa researchers have now been able to show: Some of the supposed nanoplastics do not actually consist of plastic particles, but of water-insoluble oligomers. The effects they have on humans and the environment are not yet well-understood.

Plastic household items and clothing made of synthetic fibers release microplastics: particles less than five millimetres in size that can enter the environment unnoticed. A small proportion of these particles are so small that they are measured in nanometers. Such nanoplastics are the subject of intensive research, as nanoplastic particles can be absorbed into the human body due to their small size – but, as of today, little is known about their potential toxicity.

When nanoplastics are not what they seem ... Textiles made of synthetic fibers release micro- and nanoplastics during washing. Empa researchers have now been able to show: Some of the supposed nanoplastics do not actually consist of plastic particles, but of water-insoluble oligomers. The effects they have on humans and the environment are not yet well-understood.

Plastic household items and clothing made of synthetic fibers release microplastics: particles less than five millimetres in size that can enter the environment unnoticed. A small proportion of these particles are so small that they are measured in nanometers. Such nanoplastics are the subject of intensive research, as nanoplastic particles can be absorbed into the human body due to their small size – but, as of today, little is known about their potential toxicity.

Empa researchers from Bernd Nowack's group in the Technology and Society laboratory have now joined forces with colleagues from China to take a closer look at nanoparticles released from textiles. Tong Yang, first author of the study, carried out the investigations during his doctorate at Empa. In earlier studies, Empa researchers were already able to demonstrate that both micro- and nanoplastics are released when polyester is washed. A detailed examination of the released nanoparticles released has now shown that not everything that appears to be nanoplastic at first glance actually is nanoplastic.

To a considerable extent, the released particles were in fact not nanoplastics, but clumps of so-called oligomers, i.e. small to medium-sized molecules that represent an intermediate stage between the long-chained polymers and their individual building blocks, the monomers. These molecules are even smaller than nanoplastic particles, and hardly anything is known about their toxicity either. The researchers published their findings in the journal Nature Water.

For the study, the researchers examined twelve different polyester fabrics, including microfiber, satin and jersey. The fabric samples were washed up to four times and the nanoparticles released in the process were analyzed and characterized. Not an easy task, says Bernd Nowack. "Plastic, especially nanoplastics, is everywhere, including on our devices and utensils," says the scientist. "When measuring nanoplastics, we have to take this 'background noise' into account."

Large proportion of soluble particles
The researchers used an ethanol bath to distinguish nanoplastics from clumps of oligomers. Plastic pieces, no matter how small, do not dissolve in ethanol, but aggregations of oligomers do. The result: Around a third to almost 90 percent of the nanoparticles released during washing could be dissolved in ethanol. "This allowed us to show that not everything that looks like nanoplastics at first glance is in fact nanoplastics," says Nowack.

It is not yet clear whether the release of so-called nanoparticulate oligomers during the washing of textiles has negative effects on humans and the environment. "With other plastics, studies have already shown that nanoparticulate oligomers are more toxic than nanoplastics," says Nowack. "This is an indication that this should be investigated more closely." However, the researchers were able to establish that the nature of the textile and the cutting method – scissors or laser – have no major influence on the quantity of particles released.

The mechanism of release has not been clarified yet either – neither for nanoplastics nor for the oligomer particles. The good news is that the amount of particles released decreases significantly with repeated washes. It is conceivable that the oligomer particles are created during the manufacturing of the textile or split off from the fibers through chemical processes during storage. Further studies are also required in this area.

Nowack and his team are focusing on larger particles for the time being: In their next project, they want to investigate which fibers are released during washing of textiles made from renewable raw materials and whether these could be harmful to the environment and health. "Semi-synthetic textiles such as viscose or lyocell are being touted as a replacement for polyester," says Nowack. "But we don't yet know whether they are really better when it comes to releasing fibers."

Source:

Empa

Bacteria, eating Plastic and producing Multipurpose Spider Silk Photo: Kareni, Pixabay
05.02.2024

Bacteria, eating Plastic and producing Multipurpose Spider Silk

For the first time, researchers have used bacteria to “upcycle” waste polyethylene: Move over Spider-Man: Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a strain of bacteria that can turn plastic waste into a biodegradable spider silk with multiple uses.

Their new study marks the first time scientists have used bacteria to transform polyethylene plastic — the kind used in many single-use items — into a high-value protein product.

That product, which the researchers call “bio-inspired spider silk” because of its similarity to the silk spiders use to spin their webs, has applications in textiles, cosmetics, and even medicine.

For the first time, researchers have used bacteria to “upcycle” waste polyethylene: Move over Spider-Man: Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a strain of bacteria that can turn plastic waste into a biodegradable spider silk with multiple uses.

Their new study marks the first time scientists have used bacteria to transform polyethylene plastic — the kind used in many single-use items — into a high-value protein product.

That product, which the researchers call “bio-inspired spider silk” because of its similarity to the silk spiders use to spin their webs, has applications in textiles, cosmetics, and even medicine.

“Spider silk is nature’s Kevlar,” said Helen Zha, Ph.D., an assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering and one of the RPI researchers leading the project. “It can be nearly as strong as steel under tension. However, it’s six times less dense than steel, so it’s very lightweight. As a bioplastic, it’s stretchy, tough, nontoxic, and biodegradable.”

All those attributes make it a great material for a future where renewable resources and avoidance of persistent plastic pollution are the norm, Zha said.

Polyethylene plastic, found in products such as plastic bags, water bottles, and food packaging, is the biggest contributor to plastic pollution globally and can take upward of 1,000 years to degrade naturally. Only a small portion of polyethylene plastic is recycled, so the bacteria used in the study could help “upcycle” some of the remaining waste.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the bacteria used in the study, can naturally consume polyethylene as a food source. The RPI team tackled the challenge of engineering this bacteria to convert the carbon atoms of polyethylene into a genetically encoded silk protein. Surprisingly, they found that their newly developed bacteria could make the silk protein at a yield rivaling some bacteria strains that are more conventionally used in biomanufacturing.

The underlying biological process behind this innovation is something people have employed for millennia.

“Essentially, the bacteria are fermenting the plastic. Fermentation is used to make and preserve all sorts of foods, like cheese, bread, and wine, and in biochemical industries it’s used to make antibiotics, amino acids, and organic acids,” said Mattheos Koffas, Ph.D., Dorothy and Fred Chau ʼ71 Career Development Constellation Professor in Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering, and the other researcher leading the project, and who, along with Zha, is a member of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies at Rensselaer.

To get bacteria to ferment polyethylene, the plastic is first “predigested,” Zha said. Just like humans need to cut and chew our food into smaller pieces before our bodies can use it, the bacteria has difficulty eating the long molecule chains, or polymers, that comprise polyethylene.

In the study, Zha and Koffas collaborated with researchers at Argonne National Laboratory, who depolymerized the plastic by heating it under pressure, producing a soft, waxy substance. Next, the team put a layer of the plastic-derived wax on the bottoms of flasks, which served as the nutrient source for the bacteria culture. This contrasts with typical fermentation, which uses sugars as the nutrient source.

“It’s as if, instead of feeding the bacteria cake, we’re feeding it the candles on the cake,” Zha said.

Then, as a warming plate gently swirled the flasks’ contents, the bacteria went to work. After 72 hours, the scientists strained out the bacteria from the liquid culture, purified the silk protein, and freeze dried it. At that stage, the protein, which resembled torn up cotton balls, could potentially be spun into thread or made into other useful forms.

“What’s really exciting about this process is that, unlike the way plastics are produced today, our process is low energy and doesn’t require the use of toxic chemicals,” Zha said. “The best chemists in the world could not convert polyethylene into spider silk, but these bacteria can. We’re really harnessing what nature has developed to do manufacturing for us.”

However, before upcycled spider silk products become a reality, the researchers will first need to find ways to make the silk protein more efficiently.

“This study establishes that we can use these bacteria to convert plastic to spider silk. Our future work will investigate whether tweaking the bacteria or other aspects of the process will allow us to scale up production,” Koffas said.

“Professors Zha and Koffas represent the new generation of chemical and biological engineers merging biological engineering with materials science to manufacture ecofriendly products. Their work is a novel approach to protecting the environment and reducing our reliance on nonrenewable resources,” said Shekhar Garde, Ph.D., dean of RPI’s School of Engineering.

The study, which was conducted by first author Alexander Connor, who earned his doctorate from RPI in 2023, and co-authors Jessica Lamb and Massimiliano Delferro with Argonne National Laboratory, is published in the journal “Microbial Cell Factories.”

Source:

Samantha Murray, Rensselaer

Photo: TheDigitalArtist, Pixabay
31.01.2024

“Smart nanocomposites” for wearable electronics, vehicles, and buildings

  • Small, lightweight, stretchable, cost-efficient thermoelectric devices signify a breakthrough in sustainable energy development and waste heat recovery.
  • Next-gen flexible energy harvesting systems will owe their efficiency to the integration of graphene nanotubes. They offer easy processability, stable thermoelectric performance, flexibility, and robust mechanical properties.
  • Nanocomposites have high market potential in manufacturing generators for medical and smart wearables, vehicles sensors, and efficient building management.

Around half of the world’s useful energy is wasted as heat due to the limited efficiency of energy conversion devices. For example, one-third of a vehicle’s energy dissipates as waste heat in exhaust gases. At the same time, vehicles contain more and more electronic devices requiring electrical energy.

  • Small, lightweight, stretchable, cost-efficient thermoelectric devices signify a breakthrough in sustainable energy development and waste heat recovery.
  • Next-gen flexible energy harvesting systems will owe their efficiency to the integration of graphene nanotubes. They offer easy processability, stable thermoelectric performance, flexibility, and robust mechanical properties.
  • Nanocomposites have high market potential in manufacturing generators for medical and smart wearables, vehicles sensors, and efficient building management.

Around half of the world’s useful energy is wasted as heat due to the limited efficiency of energy conversion devices. For example, one-third of a vehicle’s energy dissipates as waste heat in exhaust gases. At the same time, vehicles contain more and more electronic devices requiring electrical energy. As another example, lightweight wearable sensors for health and environmental monitoring are also becoming increasingly demanding. The potential to convert waste heat or solar energy into useful electrical power has emerged as an opportunity for more sustainable energy management. Convenient thermoelectric generators (TEGs) currently have only low effectiveness and a relatively large size and weight. Based on expensive or corrosion-vulnerable materials, they are rigid and often contain toxic elements.
 
Recently developed, easy-to-process, self-supporting and flexible nonwoven nanocomposite sheets demonstrate excellent thermoelectric properties combined with good mechanical robustness. A recent paper in ACS Applied Nano Materials described how researches combined a thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) with TUBALLTM graphene nanotubes to fabricate a nanocomposite material capable of harvesting electrical energy from sources of waste heat.

Thanks to their high aspect ratio and specific surface area, graphene nanotubes provide TPU with electrical conductivity, making it possible to achieve high thermoelectrical performance while maintaining or improving mechanical properties. “Stiffness, strength, and tensile toughness were improved by 7, 25, and 250 times compared to buckypapers, respectively. Nanocomposite sheet shows low electrical resistivity of 7.5*10-3 Ohm×cm, high Young’s modulus of 1.8 GPa, failure strength of 80 MPa, and elongation at break of 41%,” said Dr. Beate Krause, Group Leader, Leibniz-Institut für Polymerforschung Dresden e. V.

Graphene nanotubes, being a fundamentally new material, provide an opportunity to replace current TEG materials with more environmentally friendly ones. The sensors powered by such thermoelectric generators could act as a “smart skin” for vehicles and buildings, providing sensoring capabilities to monitor performance and prevent potential issues before they lead to breakdowns, ensuring optimal operational efficiency. In aircraft, no-wire nanocomposites could serve as stand-alone sensors for monitoring deicing systems, eliminating the need for an extensive network of electrical cables. The high flexibility, strength, and reliability of graphene nanotube-enabled thermoelectric materials also extend their applications into the realm of smart wearable and medical devices.

Source:

Leibniz-Institut für Polymerforschung Dresden e. V. / OCSiAl

Photo: Sibi Suku, unsplash
29.01.2024

Naturalistic silk spun from artificial spider gland

Researchers led by Keiji Numata at the RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science in Japan, along with colleagues from the RIKEN Pioneering Research Cluster, have succeeded in creating a device that spins artificial spider silk that closely matches what spiders naturally produce. The artificial silk gland was able to re-create the complex molecular structure of silk by mimicking the various chemical and physical changes that naturally occur in a spider’s silk gland. This eco-friendly innovation is a big step towards sustainability and could impact several industries. This study was published January 15 in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

Researchers led by Keiji Numata at the RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science in Japan, along with colleagues from the RIKEN Pioneering Research Cluster, have succeeded in creating a device that spins artificial spider silk that closely matches what spiders naturally produce. The artificial silk gland was able to re-create the complex molecular structure of silk by mimicking the various chemical and physical changes that naturally occur in a spider’s silk gland. This eco-friendly innovation is a big step towards sustainability and could impact several industries. This study was published January 15 in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

Famous for its strength, flexibility, and light weight, spider silk has a tensile strength that is comparable to steel of the same diameter, and a strength to weight ratio that is unparalleled. Added to that, it’s biocompatible, meaning that it can be used in medical applications, as well as biodegradable. So why isn’t everything made from spider silk? Large-scale harvesting of silk from spiders has proven impractical for several reasons, leaving it up to scientists to develop a way to produce it in the laboratory.

Spider silk is a biopolymer fiber made from large proteins with highly repetitive sequences, called spidroins. Within the silk fibers are molecular substructures called beta sheets, which must be aligned properly for the silk fibers to have their unique mechanical properties. Re-creating this complex molecular architecture has confounded scientists for years. Rather than trying to devise the process from scratch, RIKEN scientists took a biomimicry approach. As Numata explains, “in this study, we attempted to mimic natural spider silk production using microfluidics, which involves the flow and manipulation of small amounts of fluids through narrow channels. Indeed, one could say that that the spider’s silk gland functions as a sort of natural microfluidic device.”

The device developed by the researchers looks like a small rectangular box with tiny channels grooved into it. Precursor spidroin solution is placed at one end and then pulled towards the other end by means of negative pressure. As the spidroins flow through the microfluidic channels, they are exposed to precise changes in the chemical and physical environment, which are made possible by the design of the microfluidic system. Under the correct conditions, the proteins self-assembled into silk fibers with their characteristic complex structure.

The researchers experimented to find these correct conditions, and eventually were able to optimize the interactions among the different regions of the microfluidic system. Among other things, they discovered that using force to push the proteins through did not work; only when they used negative pressure to pull the spidroin solution could continuous silk fibers with the correct telltale alignment of beta sheets be assembled.

“It was surprising how robust the microfluidic system was, once the different conditions were established and optimized,” says Senior Scientist Ali Malay, one of the paper’s co-authors. “Fiber assembly was spontaneous, extremely rapid, and highly reproducible. Importantly, the fibers exhibited the distinct hierarchical structure that is found in natural silk fiber.”

The ability to artificially produce silk fibers using this method could provide numerous benefits. Not only could it help reduce the negative impact that current textile manufacturing has on the environment, but the biodegradable and biocompatible nature of spider silk makes it ideal for biomedical applications, such as sutures and artificial ligaments.

“Ideally, we want to have a real-world impact,” says Numata. “For this to occur, we will need to scale-up our fiber-production methodology and make it a continuous process. We will also evaluate the quality of our artificial spider silk using several metrics and make further improvements from there.”

Source:

RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science, Japan