Designer nanofibre

Tiny fibres have the potential to become a big deterrent to counterfeiters.

Tiny fibres – co-invented by a North CarolinaStateUniversitytextiles professor and a chemical engineering professor from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez – have the potential to become a big deterrent to counterfeiters.

NC State’s Dr. Juan Hinestroza, assistant professor of textile engineering, chemistry and science, and Dr. Carlos Rinaldi, assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, created the novel nanoscale fibres that can be placed inside a garment or paper document and serve as a “fingerprint” that proves the garment or document is genuine.

At about 150 nanometres in diameter, the fibres are smaller than living cells and invisible to the naked eye, and are designed to have within them even smaller nanoparticles with an electrical, magnetic or optical “signature” that can prove a product genuine. The product would need only be scanned, or read, by a device looking for the particular signature.

For example, Hinestroza says, name-brand clothing with nanofibres can be scanned at different points in the supply chain to ensure pirated clothing doesn’t get into retail outlets or into your closet.

“The fibres can essentially serve as molecular bar codes,” Hinestroza says. “We can control the position, frequency and distribution of particles inside the fibres, and their signature.”

He also says that manufacturers wouldn’t need to change the ways they make things in order to include the nanofibres.

“These fibres can be easily incorporated into existing textile manufacturing facilities,” Hinestroza said. “Textile products are the perfect vehicles for incorporating nanotechnology into commercial applications.”

The process used to create the nanofibres is called electrospinning, a textiles manufacturing process first used in the 1930s but now being put to use to create tiny fibres. In their electrospinning research, the scientists apply electrical charges to water-based polymer solutions containing tiny nanoparticles. When enough electrical charge is applied to the solution, an unstable jet – or narrow stream of solution and nanoparticles – moving like a whip through air, is formed. The whipping motion elongates the jet while the solvent evaporates, producing a tiny fibre containing the nanoparticles.