Graduates’ textiles combine wool and precious metals

Two PhD graduates from Victoria University have combined wool with gold and silver nanoparticles to create a new range of textiles.

Dr Fern Kelly and Dr Kerstin Burridge completed parallel research projects that pioneered a way of embedding tiny nanoparticles of gold and silver in New Zealand wool, resulting in colourful textiles that have functional and aesthetic benefits. Kelly worked with silver and Burridge with gold.

When the precious metals are reduced to the nanoscale, they scatter light in different colours with silver appearing as yellow, peach, pink and purple, and gold producing a range of brilliant hues. That means textiles in many colours can be created without using traditional — and mostly synthetic — dyes.

Repeated testing by Kelly and Burridge has shown that the gold and silver are bound to the wool with an ultra-strong bond, making the textiles totally colourfast and ensuring they do not fade in light or with repeated washing.

In addition, the textile products incorporating silver nanoparticles have strong anti-microbial properties, meaning they resist bacteria and pests, such as moth larvae, that live in carpets. They also reduce the build-up of static electricity.

Kelly said there is exciting potential to use the silver wools in a range of commercial applications. ’We’re looking at the benefits of including the fibre in carpets and also in upholstery on aircraft and public transport — places where textiles get a lot of use but it isn’t practical to clean them all the time,’ she added.

Other possibilities include bandages and clothing such as socks and sportswear, where the anti-microbial properties would reduce odour.

The initial target market for the golden wools is high-end fashion accessories, fabrics and floor coverings, because they are around 100 times more expensive than wool coloured with organic dyes.

Prof Jim Johnston, from Victoria’s School of Physical and Chemical Sciences, who supervised both Kelly and Burridge’s research, is leading the commercialisation of the technology. To do so, he has formed a partnership with Wools of New Zealand. He is also working with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise in London and Milan to gain entry into the high-fashion knitted-apparel market.