Teams Work to Create Fibers Rendering Toxic Chemicals Harmless

Cornell fiber scientist Juan Hinestroza and other researchers from North Carolina State University and the University of California-Los Angeles are working with the U.S. government to create fabrics made of functional nanofibers that can decompose toxic industrial chemicals into harmless byproducts.

These fabrics will be converted into safety gear for U.S. soldiers, placed into filtration systems for buildings and vehicles and used in other types of applications.

Hinestroza, assistant professor of fiber science in the College of Human Ecology, is a member of two teams that secured more than $2.2 million from the Department of Defense. Approximately $875,000 will go directly to Hinestoza's work. Both grants are multi-university collaborative efforts funded through the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

"These nanostructures could be used in creating advanced air filtration and personal protection systems against airborne chemical threats and can find many applications in buildings, airplanes as well as personal respirators," Hinestroza said.

The first project, in collaboration with North Carolina State University, is aimed at understanding how very small electrical charges present in fibers and nanofibers can help capture nanoparticles, bacteria and viruses.

"Understanding how these charges are injected into the fibers and how they are dissipated under different environmental conditions can open an avenue to significant improvements in air filtration technology," Hinestroza said.

The position and distribution of the electrical charges on the nanofibers will be fed into computerized fluid dynamics algorithms developed by Andrey Kutznetsov of North Carolina State to predict the trajectory of the nanoparticles challenging the filter. Hinestroza and North Carolina State's Warren Jasper pioneered work in this area a couple of years ago.

The second project, in collaboration with the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), will study the incorporation of a new type of molecules – called metal organic polyhedra and metal organic frameworks – onto polymeric nanofibers to trap dangerous gases as toxic industrial chemicals and chemical warfare agents, then decompose them into substances that are less harmful to humans and
capture them for further decontamination. Omar Yaghi of UCLA pioneered the synthesis of these molecules.

This project also will look into the potential toxicity of these nanofiber-nanoparticle systems to humans in collaboration with Andre Nel from UCLA Medical School.

Hinestroza's research group specializes in understanding and manipulating nanoscale phenomena in fiber and polymer science.

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