A perfect material for filters and respirators

A sample of the fabric in reflected light
A research team from the Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Biophysics of the Russian Academy of Sciences have synthesised a material that they claim is perfect for protection of respiratory organs, analytical research and other practical purposes. An almost weightless fabric made of nylon nanofibres with a diameter less than 15nm beats any other similar materials in terms of filtering and optical properties.

The scientists say their material weighs between 10 and 20mg/m2, is almost invisible with 95% light transmission (more than that of glass), shows low resistance to airflow and has efficient interception of sub-micron particulate matter.

The scientists used a technique called electrospinning, where a jet of a dissolved polymer is ejected through a special nozzle aimed at a target under the influence of an electric field. From the other side, ethanol is electrosprayed. The polymer jet and the alcohol ions have opposing electric charges. When they collide, they form ultra-thin fibrous films.

The researchers say that testing of these nylon-4,6 electrospun films showed that they trap no less than 98% of airborne dust particles. For testing, the scientists used particles from 0.2 to 0.3┬Ám in diameter. This roughly corresponds to the dust that is not caught by the nasal pharynx, and penetrates the lungs causing a number of dangerous medical conditions. Submicron particles are the ones also used to test industrial and medical filters. To assess performance, resistance to airflow is tested as well.

The experiments showed that, in terms of interception extent to filter weight ratio and interception-resistance to airflow ratio, the nylon-4,6 filtering material beats any existing equivalents by several times.

The scientists claim that the material can be used for more than the obvious air and water purification from particulate matter. Since the material surpasses glass in transparency, it could be used in biological research. For example, after pumping air or water through the new filter intercepted microorganisms may be directly observed right on the transparent filter under a microscope.

Tom Austin-Morgan

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