Researchers Turn Ordinary Fibers into Water and Air Purifiers

Researchers Turn Ordinary Fibers into Water and Air Purifiers


For centuries, rivers have sustained human civilization.  From the Nile to the Indus, these blue-green and brown waters have been invaluable sources of irrigation.  Unfortunately they are equally convenient for waste disposal.  Over time, cocktails of industrial effluents have caused these rivers to acquire much darker hues.  Fortunately, Prof Juan Hinestroza, fiber science, has created a pollutant-absorbing fiber that could help restore rivers to their former glory.

“I often know what color is in fashion in  the U.S. by looking at a river because some of the chemicals used in manufacturing are thrown into lakes and rivers,” Hinestroza said.  It’s so sad because people have to drink that water.  As a result, what we wanted to do is create a material that could capture pollutants from air and water.

Hinestroza developed the polymer using a process known as cyclodextrin polymerization to coat the surface of a cotton fabric.  Polymerization is the process of reacting molecules together in a chemical reaction to form polymers, large molecules of repeated subunits.  The resultant material is capable of  filtering a variety of contaminants,  including Styrene and Bisphenol A. BPA is known to cause a variety of health effects, including early puberty, heart disease, breast cancer and infertility.

“Cyclodextrin is a very beautiful molecule.  On the outside it’s hydrophobic and on the inside it’s hydrophilic, Hinestroza explained.  It works because of the chemical affinity of the molecule – it is able to capture the pollutants inside and reuse them.

In fact, one of Hinestroza’s main goals is to develop a “super-suit” capable of repelling stains, changing colors and healing minor wounds.  We are also working on clothing that changes colors without pigments.  For example, when there is an allergen close by, the clothing will change colors to alert
you.  If someone spills wine on the clothing, it should be able to repel the stain and scent.

Article from NanoMeter
The Newsletter of the Cornell Nanoscale Facility

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