Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta) have produced strong and flexible nanometer-scale composite films by combining silk with metallic particles. Boasting unusual mechanical and optical properties, the synthetic material could be used in future medical technologies and antimicrobial films. The fabrication process uses silk as a template. First, the researchers dissolved silk cocoons and placed the resulting material onto a silicon substrate using a spin-coating method. The newly created multilayer film is then patterned into a template by employing a nanolithography technique and subsequently immersed in a solution containing metal ions such as silver or gold. “Because silk is a protein, we can control the properties of the surface and design different kinds of surfaces,” explains Eugenia Kharlampieva, a postdoctoral researcher. “This surface-mediated approach is flexible at producing different shapes. We can apply the method to coat any surface we want, including objects of complex shapes.” Once placed in the solution, the template facilitates nanoparticle formation. Occurring in a room-temperature, neutral-pH, water-based environment, nanoparticle growth can be precisely controlled in terms of particle size and spacing, according to the researchers. The silk-nanoparticle film features equally dispersed particles that remain separate; optical properties of the film are determined by nanoparticle material and size. It is characterized by high tensile strength, high elasticity, and toughness. The scientists maintain that such a process could reduce associated production costs and environmental impact.
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