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Neutrons — Crustacean-inspired cotton

Neutron computed tomography reveals how water is constrained to travel only along certain strands of a special yarn coated with a water-wicking compound and a biocatalytic enzyme. Credit: Yuxuan Zhang/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Textile engineering researchers from North Carolina State University used neutrons at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to identify a special wicking mechanism in a type of cotton yarn that allows the fibers to control the flow of liquid across certain strands.

The yarn is coated with chitosan, a compound derived from the shells of crabs, shrimp and lobsters that is commonly used in biomedical applications. It’s also coated with a catalase enzyme that extracts hydrogen and oxygen from hydrogen peroxide.

“Wicking tests typically introduce dye to track water, but sometimes the dye can compromise water movement. Because neutrons are highly sensitive to hydrogen, they can track water wicking directly, which is a significant benefit to experimental research,” said ORNL’s Yuxuan Zhang.  

The published research could provide valuable insights into optimizing the fabric further for use in small- and large-scale industrial applications such as chemical processing and novel filtration systems.