This project was received in response to the Nanoscale Science and Engineering initiative, NSF 01-157, category NER. This exploratory research effort will attempt to achieve a convergence of two frontier areas of Electrohydrodynamics (EHD) (the sub-discipline of plasma physics that is concerned with the behavior of electrically charged fluids in electric fields): electrospinning of nanofabrics; and applications of the One Atmosphere Uniform Glow Discharge Plasma (OAUGDP). Electrospinning is an EHD method for producing nanofibers and nanofabrics that has been under active development at UT's Textiles and Nonwovens Development Center (TANDEC). The OAUGDP, recently developed at the UT Plasma Sciences Laboratory, allows glow discharges to be generated at one atmosphere in air rather than at low pressure in vacuum systems. Nonwoven nanofabrics made of elecrospun polymeric fibers with diameters less than 500 nanometers have a very soft hand, softer than eiderdown; their polymeric materials are recyclable; and such fabrics are permeable to air and water vapor, but not to microorganisms or fine particulates because of their small fiber diameter. Polymeric nanofabrics have an enormous potential for quality garments, filter media, and protective clothing that is impervious to microorganisms and toxic particulates. Nanofabrics would make excellent garments were it not for their relatively low strength, and a low surface energy that gives them an uncomfortably low wettability and wickability. We plan to explore potential applications of the OAUGDP to nanofabrics, including increasing the strength of electrospun nanofabrics to useful levels; increasing the surface energy of nanofabrics; making nanofabrics wettable; and making nanofabrics more comfortable as garments by increasing their wickability.
The activity will take place at the University of Tennessee's Plasma Sciences Laboratory (http://plasma.ece.utk.edu), which has established a reputation for going beyond the technological water's edge to develop new technologies and introduce them into industrial practice. The Plasma Sciences Laboratory has spun off one company, Atmospheric Glow Technologies (www.a-gtech.com) to market technologies based on the OAUGDP; the Plasma Lab has been visited by at least 20 Fortune 500 companies for technological assessment; it has obtained 9 patents on the OAUGDP and its uses; and it normally has at least two company presidents address the Plasma Science Seminar each semester to acquaint GRAs and other associates with entrepreneurship. One of the PIs (P. Tsai) has long-standing contacts with the Army, and has done work on the effects of plasma exposure of camouflage and filter fabrics in the past. This relationship should assure visibility of any results of this work that are of significance to the Department of Defense or homeland security. With respect to the work in this project, we expect to publish potentially useful results in the conferences and journals that serve the textile industry. Particularly interesting or "classic" data will appear in a future edition of the PIs three-volume book, Industrial Plasma Engineering. The subject of this work is by nature interdisciplinary, and will involve students from the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department and the School of Human Ecology where TANDEC is located. Award of this grant comes at a particularly good time because when it starts, we will be joined by a NSF-NATO Postdoctoral Associate, Dr. Jozef Rahel from Prof. M. Cernak's laboratory at Comenius University in the Slovak Republic. Dr. Rahel will be doing a plasma-textile project that will be synergistic with the current project. It is anticipated that he will take the OAUGDP technology back to central Europe, helping his country recover from the effects of the Cold War. We normally send our GRAs to at least one professional society meeting a year to present a poster paper on their work. We have women and minority GRAs on the staff of the Plasma Lab, and some of our best work of the past ten years was done by women GRAs or postdoctoral associates. Indeed, one of the latter, Dr. Kimberly Kelly-Wintenberg, is now the CEO of our spin-off company. We have attempted to make plasma science and our contributions to it visible by presenting invited papers both internationally and within the USA, with 13 such presentations in the past year. We also maintain an extensive website from which complete texts of our 9 patents and archival conference and journal papers can be downloaded.