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Spinning smarter fibres by throwing silk into the mix

   Department of Materials Science and Engineering

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  Dr C Holland  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Silk fibres are often held up as the pinnacle of natural materials due to their highly desirable properties that often outperform their synthetic counterparts. However whilst mulberry silk, the source of all our commercial textile silk, has been shaped over 5000 years of farming to be the ideal fibre for clothing, we believe we can take it one step further and make silk “smart”. Others have approached this by simply dipping fabric into a range of different chemicals and coating it, however anyone who has seen their favourite clothes fade and fray in the wash knows this isn’t sustainable or the best solution. The PhD challenge is how to incorporate functional additives into silk before it is spun.

This isn’t as straightforward as it seems, whilst perfectly possible with other synthetic fibres to mix in additives, silk has some really interesting optimisations that means it is exquisitely sensitive to flow. This means that attempts to incorporate additives may prematurely solidify the unspun silk prior to spinning. Therefore we need to look at how to make silk even smarter, buy turning on and off its flow sensitivity and therefore prevent silk from being flow sensitive, in order to mix in the additives and then to reactivate it and spin it into fibres.

Based on our recent publications this should be possible through controlling the chemical environment of the silk via balancing salt concentrations, acidity and some other biological tricks. However to achieve this we need to first understand it, and this will involve using state of the art techniques that can measure and visualise flow in complex systems and then you’ll put that knowledge into practice through our industry sponsor Spintex Engineering Ltd.

If successful you will be an integral part of the Natural Materials Group run by Dr Chris Holland, a highly interdisciplinary, creative and team oriented research environment dealing with a range of materials, from snail mucus to silk and hair. You’ll be trained in house in practical and theoretical areas as well as a wide range of transferrable skills (many of our students become prize winners), all of which are relevant and useful for later employment (rheology, the study of flow in particular is a very specialist and in demand subject in everywhere from oil and gas to chocolate production).

Furthermore added value to the PhD comes from our industrial partner who is keen that this project is truly collaborative. As Spintex Engineering Ltd is SME, the contributions you can make across the business are significant and it would give you first hand exposure to product development in an entrepreneurial environment. Training in the company will be on all of the available equipment in their development lab and it is expected that the student will spend at least 3 months over the course of the project working there.

A 2.1 or higher class degree from an accredited university in the area of materials science, biology, physics, chemistry or engineering is required.

If you have reached the end of this advert you’re clearly curious, good for you! Now why not start an informal conversation with Chris to find out more about the role and if your background and skills may be suitable [Email Address Removed] 

Applications can be made using the information on this page https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/postgraduate/phd/apply/applying

Funding Notes

The project is funded for a UK student, with a stipend at the UKRI rate, and Home tuition fees, for a duration of 3.5 years.
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