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Czech scientists have invented a nanofibrous sorbent. It will also help in the event of an ecological disaster
The Technical University of Liberec (TUL) as the cradle of nanofibers came up with another innovation. It will be useful in similar accidents, such as the poisoning of fish on the Bečva River in 2020. In cooperation with the Faculty of Pharmacy of the Charles University in Hradec Králové, scientists from Liberec have created innovative nanofiber sorbents, or special means for capturing and removing liquids.
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Samples of nanofibrous sorbents with different surface treatment
| Photo: Technical University of Liberec
“A big advantage is that we can both select a specific polymer for the production of nanofibers and functionalize the surface of the nanofibers almost to measure. The sorbents created from them then bind to each other exactly the substance or compound that we need,” Jakub Erben from the Department of Nonwoven Textiles and Nanofibrous Materials of the TUL Faculty of Textiles described one of the biggest advantages.
Means produced in this way can bind the required substance to each other much faster. At the same time, they save time for laboratory technicians when analyzing the sample and reduce the need to use unfriendly organic solvents, thereby benefiting nature. In terms of financial costs, these sorbents are two to three times cheaper than other products sold. “They are not so susceptible to careless handling, which is why working with them in the laboratory is easier and more accessible,” informed Adam Pluhař from the Department of Communication and Marketing at TUL.
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Martina Háková from the University of Hradec came to the scientists from the University of Liberec with the idea of using nanofibers in extraction methods. Together with Jakub Erben, they formed an inter-university team of young scientists who, after five years of very intensive cooperation, presented the resulting product.
“It was clear to us right from the start that this would work. We were able to accommodate each other and complement each other. Martina brought insight from the field of analytical chemistry, she was responsible for overall testing and providing feedback, while I, on the other hand, was responsible for the material and technological part, the actual production of sorbents and their modification according to Martina’s wishes,” Erben described the collaboration.
Microscopic picture of the structure of the new nanofibrous srobents. A mixture of microfibers and nanofibers is clearly visible on itSource: Technical University of Liberec
The inter-university team first worked with water, which is a simple solution from the point of view of chemistry, and gradually worked their way up to solutions such as beer, wine, milk, urine or human serum. The new sorbents can thus be successfully used in the detection of antibiotics in human serum, in the analysis of the presence of the industrial chemical bisphenol A in river water or the highly toxic ochratoxin A in food. They can therefore be successfully used in treatment, diagnosis and investigation of ecological accidents.
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“In addition to saving time, money and nature, the great added value of our material is also that it can significantly increase the sensitivity and yield of the entire process of chemical analysis with the help of extraction followed by liquid chromatography,” emphasized Háková.
Award for contribution
Companies are already interested in the nanofiber innovation and now it is about its application in the commercial sector. Both members of the research team received awards for their work. As the head of a multidisciplinary development team, Háková already won the Doctorandus award for technical sciences in the Česká hlava competition a year ago for a new sorbent. Erben, who has been researching nanofibrous materials for seven years, received the Ministry of Education Award last December.
“I am very happy that we can honor excellent students and the educational and research activities of academic staff in this way and highlight exceptional, motivated and talented personalities from our university and scientific research environment. This country and its future depend above all on creativity and motivation, on the ability to create added value and on the willingness to make sacrifices for one’s mission,” highlighted Minister of Education Vladimír Balaš.
Jakub Erben received the Ministry of Education Award for his research in the field of nanofibers. Pictured with Minister Vladimír Balaš and Deputy Radka WildováSource: Ministry of Education and Culture
At the Technical University of Liberec, Erben is the third laureate of this important award, which the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports has been awarding in this form since 2014. The previous year, Tereza Semerádová from the TUL Faculty of Economics won it. In 2019, Ondřej Havelka from the Faculty of Mechatronics, Informatics and Interdisciplinary Studies and the Institute for Nanomaterials, Advanced Technologies and Innovation of TUL received the award.
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