The Nano Bionix test system described in this proposal will provide the University of Akron and the surrounding research community with an extremely versatile system that is capable of performing a variety of mechanical tensile tests on biological and manmade materials. The Nano Bionix has a broad sensitivity that allows it characterize the material properties of large fibers such as alpaca hair, as well as thin fibers such as spider silk, and even some nanoscale electrospun fibers. Furthermore, the Nano Bionix offers the novel capability of Continuous Dynamic Analysis, which measures changes in how fibers store and release energy as they are stretched. Finally, the Nano Bionix system offers the ability to manipulate both temperature and humidity during testing. While a few tensile testers offer thermal control, this is the first system to allow for simultaneous testing of both hydro and thermal effects on the material properties of fibers. Together, these features make the described Nano Bionix system a highly integrated package that will greatly expand the research capacity of The University of Akron and the surrounding research communities. Acquisition of this test system will have a variety of broader impacts upon research and education at the University of Akron and surrounding institutions. Tensile testing is a critical tool for biological materials research, engineering, physics, polymer chemistry, and textiles. Thus, this system has the potential to foster a variety of interdisciplinary research programs at The University of Akron. In particular, understanding the mechanical performance and molecular structure of spider silks is of great interest to members of both the Departments of Biology and of Polymer Science. Thus, the Nano Bionix will create a foundation for collaborative research on these biological super fibers. The unique combination of capabilities offered by the Nano Bionix system will also benefit a variety of researchers from surrounding institutions for projects including nanocomposite fibers, natural and synthetic textiles, and biological materials. Thus, the system will serve to strengthen collaborative relationships among institutions in a part of the United State that has historically played an important role in the development and production of a variety of manmade polymer materials. The Nano Bionix operates with an exceptionally easy user interface. This makes the system a very practical tool for use by undergraduate and graduate students. Thus, the Nano Bionix will help to train students in biomechanics and materials science, preparing them for a variety of careers in research and industry. It will also facilitate the development of an inquiry based laboratory exercise for introductory biology students that focuses upon spider silk biomechanics. Many of the proposed research projects that would utilize the Nano Bionix have close ties to industry or technology such that students involved in those projects will gain first hand exposure to the essential relationship that basic scientific research has with human progress. More than half of these students, within the Department of Biology, are women and over 30% are underrepresented minorities. Thus, this Nano Bionix test system will foster the twin goals of providing a unique enhancement to northeastern Ohio's research infrastructure and of educating students in a dynamic, interdisciplinary environment.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI)
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Steven E. Ellis
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University of Akron
United States
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