A beautiful mess

Materials World magazine
1 Jan 2018

A control sample gone wrong proves worthy of a photography prize.

Taking second place in the 2017 ZEISS Photography Competition, run by the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge, UK, this image shows micro-scale electrospun gelatin fibres on a 3D-printed polylactic acid support structure. 

Elisabeth Gill, PhD candidate in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering and photographer behind the image, is working on creating biomaterial fibre structures using a low-voltage electrospinning patterning technique on a modified commercial 3D printer. Gill had previously established this technique, which uses volts to draw ultrafine polymer fibres over a large distance, in the paper, Low-Voltage Continuous Electrospinning Patterning.

Gill told Materials World, ‘The sample pictured is actually an example of the technique I’ve been developing gone wrong. I was aiming for fibres of uniform size and spacing, which are as small as possible. That sample is a beautiful mess. I’ve since figured out what I had been doing wrong and I am soon submitting a paper I have written on the method.’ 

The focus of Gill’s PhD research is tissue engineering, and, while the process is not optimised, it can create sufficient 3D biomaterial fibre structures to be used as tissue models for further research. 

‘The ultimate goal for such technology would be to use it as a model to study disease or as a drug screening platform tailored towards human physiology,’ said Gill. ‘This will hopefully help accelerate the innovation of new medicines and therapies to combat disease, in addition to eradicating the reliance on animal testing.’ 

For the full list of winners, see bit.ly/2zVZflH, and to read Low-Voltage Continuous Electrospinning Patterning, visit bit.ly/2zythZh