Acquisition of a dynamic nano-force tensile test system for ultrathin fibers with environmental control and integrated image analysis

Todd A. Blackledge (PI) and Ronald K. Eby (CoPI)   

Project Summary

Intellectual Merit

            The Nano Bionix test system described in this proposal will provide the University of Akron with an extremely versatile system that is capable of performing a variety of mechanical tensile tests on biological and synthetic materials. The university and surrounding region currently lack tensile testers with the extremely versatile sensitivity of the Nano Bionix, which allows it characterize large fibers such as alpaca hair as well as thin fibers such as spider silk and even nanoscale electrospun fibers. Furthermore, the Nano Bionix offers the novel capability of Continuous Dynamic Analysis, measuring changes in the viscoelastic properties of materials as they are strained. 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.


Broader Impacts

            Tensile testing is a critical tool for research in biomechanics, 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. We have also determined that the unique combination of capabilities offered by the Nano Bionix system will benefit the current and future research of a variety of faculty, not just from The University of Akron, but also from surrounding institutions. These projects include research on nanocomposite fibers, natural and synthetic textiles, and biological materials such as nucleus pulposus.

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 thereby training them in biomechanics and materials science, preparing them for a variety of careers. We also intend to develop an inquiry based laboratory exercise for introductory biology students that is focused on spider silk biomechanics. Because of the close relationship that many of the proposed projects have with industry or technology, students will also be exposed 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.