Sustainable silk material for biomedical, optical, and food supply applications
Silk is recently leading in sustainability research. It can be produced in nature and reprocessed from discarded or recycled clothing and other textiles. The flexible material makes it ideal for wearable and implantable health monitoring sensors. Silk promotes the growth of cells in humans and does not generate an immune response making it an important biomaterial. It is also helpful in electronics and optics since it is an easily manipulated material at the nano- and microscale; therefore is used to develop photonic crystals, diffractive optics, and waveguides, among other devices. It also helps reduce the global carbon footprint by reducing the food waste using silk coatings.
Researchers from Tufts University discuss the properties of silk and recent and future applications of the material. “We are continuing to improve the integration between different disciplines; for example, we can use silk as a biomedical device for drug delivery but also include an optical response in that same device. This same process could be used someday in the food supply chain. Imagine having a coating which preserves the food but also tells you when the food is spoiled” stated author Giulia Guidetti. Depending on its final use, silk can be easily chemically modified, tuned, or assembled into a specific form, making it versatile and superior to traditional materials. Understanding the material’s origin plays an important role in optimizing and controlling these aspects.
The design and creation of silk by silkworms has been studied for a long time, but a complete picture of its construction is still lacking. The team emphasized that to fabricate the material more effectively and with more control over the final function, understanding the bottom-up assembly is very significant. “For technology, we want to make something with repeatability, which requires being able to control a process that has inherent variability and has been perfected over thousands of years," as stated by author Florenzo Omenetto. Scientists hope to see more devices and materials use silk in the future.
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