This grant provides funding for the development of a novel processing approach for the scalable and versatile fabrication of polymer nanofibers. Specifically, the approach is based on an unusual combination of conventional polymer processing, namely co-extrusion, and multi-layering with transverse cutting. The major aims of this proposal are (1) to provide fundamental understanding of this novel process; (2) to assess the flexibility of the polymer systems amenable to nanofiber fabrication; and (3) to examine targeted biomedical applications which build upon orientation and cross-sectional variations. It is our goal to push the processing envelope to obtain small diameter nanofibers (for example, 75-200 nm) with variations in cross-sectional area to ultimately probe surface area and porosity limits. We will also integrate a fiber drawing unit with accurate temperature control immediately after the extrusion system as an in-situ takeoff and orienting unit, which will largely increase production efficiency and add significant strength to the fibers due to chain orientation.
If successful, the results of this research will provide a deeper understanding of this novel process and a detailed assessment of the scope of polymer systems that are amenable to fiber fabrication via this unique process. Also, it is expected that the results of this research will reveal the potentially broad impact of the technology, with a specific focus on applications in the area of human health, including nanofiber scaffolding for regenerative medicine and drug delivery. The proposed work will be an important contribution to the area of polymer processing and can lay the foundation for an entirely new polymer nanofiber manufacturing process. Moreover, the work can lead to the development of important applications of polymer nanofibers that are impractical using conventional nanofiber processing methods.