Engineers created a 3D bulk material from silk fibroin which is programmable to specific tasks. Its versatility would be applicable to many purposes, especially in the medical field.
This new material could be programmed with biological, optical, and chemical functions. The study was published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and was conducted by engineers from Tuft University.
How the Material Was Created
The engineers were able to create the new three-dimensional bulk material through the process called the water-based fabrication method. This procedure was based on protein self-assembly where molecules adopt a defined arrangement without the help of an external source.
The bulk materials are then treated with water-soluble molecules at nano-, micro-, and macro-scale to make multiple solid forms that are functional. Specific conditions such as a particular temperature and exposure to certain rays can activate the coded task.
Bio-inspired fabrication of “high-performing multifunctional materials” is made possible with the mechanism according to the study’s senior and corresponding author, Fiorenzo G. Omenetto, Ph.D. This is through the totality of embedding “functional elements in biopolymers,” controlling the process of self-assembly, and finally, modifying their “ultimate form.”
Silk is long known to be one of nature’s toughest materials mainly because of its unique crystalline structure. Silk fibroin is used because it allows an easy manipulation of the resulting substance’s form. It is an insoluble protein, which gives silk, created by spiders and silkworm its durability
Uses of the New 3D Silk. Fibroin Bulk Material
In their study, the researchers made their own experiments of the 3D bulk material to show its potential. For instance, a color-changing surgical pin switches color when it reaches its mechanical limits as it nears failure.
They also made functional screws that respond to infrared light by heating on demand. Another one is a component with the biocompatibility of enabling sustained release of bioactive agents like enzymes or hormones.
As of now, more research and refinement is needed to explore the additional applications of the material that can be adapted to wide use. But the possibility of the uses of this versatile material is endless.
One of the more interesting mechanical components of the material is its potential to be used in orthopedics where growth factors like enzymes can be embedded. Surgical crews would be monitored less viciously when they change colors after reaching their torque limits while nuts and bolts can be programmed to report their surrounding’s environmental conditions.
The silk fibroin material could even possibly be made into household goods capable of reshaping and remolding. Ultimately, the biodegradable material with electronic programmability and strength of silk would be very valuable.