How MIT literally turned up the heat Fink and his lab partners at MIT over the last 18 years dis-

covered how to thermally draw together multiple materials that have very different properties to create fiber devices. Fiber drawing involves preparing a “preform” of materi-

als like a large glass rod resembling an oversized model of the desired fiber. The preform is heated to the point where it reaches a taffy-like consistency. Then it is pulled into a thin fiber. The materials inside the preform are unchanged even though the preform’s dimensions are drastically reduced. Because the drawing process only requires heating to 500°F (260°C), materials whose melting points are far higher are fair game. The preforms today contain selenium, sulfur, zinc and tin, arranged within a coating of polymer material. MIT combined these materials to form fibers containing zinc selenide, whose melting point is 2786°F (1530°C).

not benign environments. So what we make is going to have to be able to work that way and yet interface meaningfully.” Ralph Lauren is there to help. At the Commerce Department-sponsored Smart Fabrics Summit, the firm showed a prototype of an athletic work- out shirt with built-in biometric monitoring. “No one saw that one coming,” Antoinette said. “So,

now you have a brand house looking at technology in a different manner. That was a paradigm shift for us.” High-level brand names in the apparel industry

like Ralph Lauren and Under Armor are now working alongside aerospace firms like Boeing, DuPont, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman on the interaction “between our clothing and ourselves,” he said. “We’re going to see some really interesting things happening in the next 10 years.”

To take fabrics to a new level, scientists at MIT combined the basic ingredients of technology and chose to not just layer them in but grow them.

That new fiber is a simple-but-functional semicon-

ductor device called a diode—a basic building block for electrical circuits. A diode can be seen as a one-way valve for electrical current. “We were the first to combine a metal semiconductor and insulator—the basic ingredients of technology—into a drawn fiber,” Fink said. “The fibers have complex architec- tures at tens of nanometers scale.” When describing the fiber-drawing, Fink often notes that

energetically and thermodynamically, the process shouldn’t work. “But you use kinetics to draw at a rate that is faster than the rate of falling apart or reorganizing,” he said.

How will ‘fiber devices’ interface? The resulting “fiber devices” will provide extraordinary

flexibility. It is reasonable to expect innovations to include “key-

boards” in clothing covering abs and thighs, Antoinette said. And that brings new challenges: “Our skin is salty. It’s wet. It flexes. It has massive differential temperatures and pressure placed on it.” “‘Connectorization’ is going to be a big problem. Even if

you could turn everything into a Wi-Fi interface, something needs power,” he said. “Think about how well a shirt works when we move back and forth. Think about shoes. These are

Investors outside US show interest The NNMI and AFFOA exist to help US- based, budding manufacturing tech firms survive what some call the economic “valley of death.” That’s when a proven idea can be further developed and scaled for a manufac-

turing environment but lacks the funding to do so—largely because investors view manufacturing technology as too high risk. Any effort to dominate advanced fibers and tex- tiles manufacturing must address it. Nanocomp has arrived at just that place. Antoinette, who employs 72 people working in 60,000 ) of a 100,000 ft2

ft2 (5574 m2 (9290 m2 ) building in New

Hampshire, does not sense competition in CNT-based spun yarns. But he does see other firms, such as General Nano in Ohio and Tortech Nano Fibers in Ma’alot Tarshiha, Israel, trying to make CNT-based sheets, he said. So it’s time to raise money to expand Nanocomp’s facility and show it can do manufacturing at industrial scales. And on the VC front, at least, even the Juno credentials

fall on deaf ears in the US. VC in the US “has fled anything that’s involved with

manufacturing that’s capital intensive,” Antoinette said. “The sweet siren song of social media apps and the like, where massive valuations are happening with much less risk capital, has really changed the landscape. Now, US venture capital is very difficult to attract if you are in the materials area. “Overseas capital is much more interested,” he added, “because they perceive there’s a gap to be filled.” Reporter Karen Haywood Queen contributed to this article.


Summer 2016

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60  |  Page 61  |  Page 62  |  Page 63  |  Page 64  |  Page 65  |  Page 66  |  Page 67  |  Page 68