Electrospinning is the process of dispensing a polymer solution from a nozzle, then applying a very high voltage potential between the nozzle and a collector screen. The result is a very, very fine fiber that is stretched and elongated down to nanometers. Why would anyone want this? These fibers make great filters because of their large surface area. Electrospinning has been cited as an enabling technology for the future of textiles. The reality, though, is that no one really knows how electrospinning is going to become a standard industrial process because it’s so rare. Not many labs are researching electrospinning, to say nothing of industry.
[Douglas Miller] is building his own electrospinning machine. Except for the ominous warning signs on the 40-kilovolt power supply, there’s nothing in this machine that makes it look any different from a normal, homebrew 3D printer. There are stepper motors inside to raise and lower a carriage, a syringe, and a handy USB port. If you didn’t know any better, you could easily assume [Doug]’s OpenESpin is designed to print fidget spinners and tiny tugboats instead of films of carbon nanotubes and piezoelectric thermoplastics.
The DIY electrospinning machine is really what the Hackaday Prize is all about. It’s an enabling technology anyone can build for a few hundred dollars that also allows real science to happen. The films and blobs being formed in [Doug]’s electrospinning machine could easily find a home in a PhD candidate’s thesis or as a component in cutting edge research on everything from battery technology to the Internet of Underpants.