How SEM helps analyze morphologies for nanofibers efficiently

By Dr. Jasmin Zahn - Mar 9, 2017

Most of us may not be aware, but we are constantly surrounded by fibers. From tissue engineering to diapers, high technology filters are part of our daily lives. Many common, inexpensive polymers can be processed on a large scale into flexible materials. But not every produced fibrous material is ready for usage, such as in electronic devices, and further alterations of the material are needed. This blog will give you an insight into how scanning electron microscopy (SEM) can be used in the context of various nano-engineered fibers.

Polymer nanocomposites appear to be very promising, cost-effective candidates for applications in a variety of fields, such as mechanical engineering, small-scale electronics, chemical sensing, tissue engineering, and biosensing. Due to remarkable physical properties, such as a large aspect ratio, mechanical strength, and high polarizability, carbon nanotubes represent one common type used to tune the electrical, mechanical, thermal and optical properties of the polymer composite.

Example: controlling the concentration and orientation of carbon nanotubes in poly(lactic acid) (PLA) fibers

By controlling the concentration and orientation of carbon nanotubes in poly(lactic acid) (PLA) fibers, researchers have created nanocomposites with improved properties for nanoelectronics, biosensing, and tissue engineering applications. After altering PLA fibers and electrospinning, Iqbal et al (Nanotechnology, 2015) were able to show — due to a more detailed analysis regarding their structure — that altered surface properties enhanced the properties of fibers.

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Example: the use of cellulose nanofibers in chromatography

A further example of advanced fiber technology is the use of cellulose nanofibers in chromatography. Especially in the area of pharmaceutical development, more and more effort is going into the advancement of purification techniques. Cellulose is a commonly used material in membrane chromatography and filtration as it is chemically resistant, cheap and has good non-specific binding properties. However, cellulose raises many challenges in electrospinning because it is difficult to dissolve and the solvent systems required can lead to non-uniform nanofiber deposition. Annealing cellulose acetate nanofibres with heat is a common step to improve mechanical strength by creating “spot welds” at fiber strand overlap points.

Scanning electron microscopy images offer an analysis of different morphologies for a cast porous membrane, packed-bed resin and an annealed electrospun regenerated cellulose. In the study of Dods et al. (Journal of Chromatography A, 2015) FiberMetric (a software that can analyze in a semi-automated mode further fiber parameters) was used to determine fiber diameters and therefore gain knowledge on how an alteration of cellulose shows an impact on fibers.

If you are interested in an efficient and easy tool to measure your fibers, please download the FiberMetric software specification sheet here for more information:

Download the FiberMetric software specification sheet

About the author

Dr. Jasmin Zahn is an Application Engineer at Thermo Fisher Scientific, the world leader in serving science. She is highly engaged in finding out more about the possibilities for Thermo Fisher Scientific products in various applications. In addition, Jasmin is active in sharing best practices with the outside world to encourage them to look outside their standard scope of use and to improve in their work.

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