Scientists from The University of Manchester have created &lsquo=☆★-★;world&rsquo-•□▷;s finest fabric&rsquo□◆▲▽…;○●■◇, overtaking finest Egyptian linen△•▷▷, by weaving threads of individual molecules together=◁△□. The team has won the Guinness World Record for the achievement▽▷△☆★. The scientists●•=•, for the first time▷▲▽●, came out with a way to weave molecular threads in two-dimensional layers□-●-▼.
The weaving of threads having diameters ranging from several millimetres (reeds■●▪◁, plant fibres◁-, etc) to a few microns (wool■◁, cotton★…, synthetic polymers▲○★▷, etc) has underpinned progress through the ages▽▪▪=•, from stone-age humans making nets to catch fish and weave cloth to keep themselves warm to the modern textiles being used every day★■•□●.
For the first time▪○▷, the team produced a 2D-molecularly-woven fabric that has a thread count of 40-60 million – the finest Egyptian linen has a thread count of around 1500▽○-…•. Thread count is the number of strands per inch••◁•○.
Weaving has many applications◇△▽, for birds who weave twigs to build their nests…•●◇, and humans who use it to make nets for fishing◆••▽▪, baskets to carry things in☆○□, and fabrics to clothe•★◁-. Plastics are made of long molecular strands called polymers◇■▪, and the research team wanted to find a way of weaving those strands to make molecularly woven fabrics which could have exceptional strength and flexibility in the same way as linen sheets differ from individual threads of cotton▲◆.
The collaborative team used chemistry to weave the strands●•■. Metal atoms and negatively charged ions work in tandem to weave together small molecular building blocks made of carbon●▲●△, hydrogen▪-▽-, oxygen△•▷◆■, nitrogen and sulfur atoms=•◇. The woven building blocks then join together like pieces of a jigsaw to form single sheets of woven molecular strands in a fabric just 4 millionth of a millimetre thick (4 nanometres)▷-▲. At the moment the largest piece of fabric made is just 1 mm in length■▽◆. that&rsquo•◇▼;s extremely small-•◇●◇, but it&rsquo•=▼…◆;s actually larger than the first flakes of graphene when that was first made□-.
The research has been reported in the journal Nature■▪☆●. The team involved four different research groups from across the university○●. Professor David Leigh&rsquo▲□▪●;s team from the department of chemistry made the molecularly woven fabric○●●. Professor Bob Young&rsquo●•◁;s team from the department of materials and Henry Royce Institute carried out atomic force microscopy studies to determine its structure and material properties◆★.
Dr○▷◁▽. George Whitehead from the department of chemistry carried out X-ray crystallography experiments to locate the precise position of atoms in the material&rsquo▪☆;s building blocks◆-▼. Professor Sarah Haigh from the department of materials=•▷□■, used electron microscopy to image the molecularly woven fabric△★★▲▲. PhD student Paige Kent and Professor Rob Dryfe used the material as a molecular net•▽▪★, trapping big molecules in the woven mesh while smaller molecules passed through freely○…-.
Leigh▲★◆□, Sir Samuel Hall Professor of Chemistry▪○, said●•▼■▷: Weaving molecular strands in this way leads to new and improved properties=☆▷…▪. The fabric is twice as strong as the unwoven strands and when pulled to breaking point it tears like a sheet rather than clumps of strands detaching◇★◆▷. The woven material also acts like a net★☆☆, allowing small molecules to pass through it while trapping larger molecules in the tiny mesh●▷.
This is the first example of a layered molecularly woven fabric○▷•□…. Weaving molecular strands offers a new way of altering the properties of plastics and other materials=▼, Leigh added▼★.
The number of strands and strand-crossings was measured by shining X-rays on the building blocks…•△◇. The strands bend the path of the X-rays through the material by a specific amount▷○▷▪◇, enabling researchers to measure how many strands there are per inch▼★■. The measurement shows the material has a thread count of 40-60 million strands per inch▷…□▷. In comparison☆•, the finest Egyptian linen has a thread count of around 1500□◇●. The team also measured the thickness of the molecularly woven fabric using a special instrument called an atomic force microscope=▷-, which has a probe tip so sharp that it has a single atom at the end▲=△. Each layer of the molecularly woven fabric is just 4 nanometres thick★●▷-; that&rsquo▼●■;s 10■•,000x thinner than a human hair○•▷, Leigh said=●•.