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High School Students in Summer Textile Exploration Program (STEP) Take on the Multidisciplinary Textile Engineering Field by Exploring Nonwovens

STEP Students 2013
STEP Students explore the fascinating behavior of the materials that make up their nonwoven products with graduate research assistant, Jonathan Halbur (second from left, top row)

Written by: Caroline Ellington, ABM Textile Engineering Student

Jonathan Halbur is no stranger to the Wilson College of Textiles. Currently working on his PhD in Fiber and Polymer Science under the guidance of Dr. Jesse Jur, he previously earned his BS and MS degrees in Textile Engineering from the Department of Textile Engineering, Chemistry & Science (TECS) in the Wilson College of Textiles as well. The focus of Jonathan’s doctorate work deals with the inorganic modification of nonwovens. Nonwovens are a textile fabric made directly from fibers without first creating a yarn and subsequently weaving or knitting the yarns. As such, they can be made very fast and in many cases, very inexpensively. Some examples of nonwovens would include diapers, air filters and wipes such as Swiffer.

Jonathan is responsible for leading a group of high school students interested in Textile Engineering during Week One of the Summer Textile Exploration Program (STEP). The Wilson College of Textiles holds STEP each year for high school students who have an interest in textiles and are potentially interested in enrolling at the Wilson College of Textiles in the future. Of the five project concentration areas offered each year – two are led by TECS faculty, staff & graduate students – Textile Engineering and Polymer Chemistry. Jonathan was a seemingly perfect fit to lead the group of seven engineering students as they explore textile engineering from a nonwovens perspective. Having worked alongside Dr. Jur to create a fun and interactive lesson plan, Jonathan hoped that the students he interacted with learned a lot about what it means to truly approach nonwovens from an engineering standpoint.

During the five day week that STEP engineering students spent with Jonathan, they were introduced to nonwovens from a technical standpoint and were able to gain a basic understanding of how nonwoven structures compare to knits and wovens. On day one, the students worked through a guided analysis of knits, wovens, nonwovens, and the differences between each type of construction. Next, the students focused on nonwovens specifically from three different nonwoven applications: medical, protective, and hygiene. The group of seven STEP students was broken down into three groups; one for each application of nonwovens.

Fabric and water interaction
One feature that STEP students explored was the different ways that their fabrics interacted with water. STEP students learned that some fabrics can hold hundreds of times their weight in water while others repel water as shown in the image.

Each group of STEP students was given products from their respective class of nonwovens and asked to think about the materials that were used in the construction of the product, what purpose each material served, and the properties that enable each material to do its job as a part of the whole product. Students deconstructed their products and examined the various materials that which the product comprised. For example, one group was given a diaper and asked to take apart each layer and determine the purpose and properties of the textiles involved in each part.

With their deconstructed products, students were then able to further examine each individual component of their nonwoven using a scanning electron microscope (SEM). By using SEM, students were able to observe surface phenomena and surface characteristics that were otherwise indiscernible to the naked eye. This helped them gain a more realistic understanding of the materials used in the making of their product.

Scanning electron microscope photomicrographs of cotton and nylon
Scanning Electron Microscope Photomicrographs: L – Cotton fibers in a longitudinal view, R – Trilobal nylon fibers in a cross-sectional view.

Once the students gained a thorough understanding of what is required to construct a nonwoven product from a materials standpoint, they were prompted to think about what it costs to construct a product from start to finish and each group conducted a financial analysis. By breaking down the total costs of making a product from start to finish; including the costs of individual polymers, production and packaging, among other details; STEP students obtained a broader understanding of product development by considering the bigger picture of their products life-cycle. Jonathan’s goal with the STEP mini-course on nonwovens was to show STEP students how textile engineering is a truly multidisciplinary field; that it is not just making fabric, but includes an array of engineering disciplines, especially in the field of nonwovens. By familiarizing the students with nonwovens, Jonathan introduced them to one of the largest overall textile markets. Regardless of where the students from this STEP engineering group decided to pursue their collegiate academic ambitions, they will have had a unique, exciting, and enlightening week at STEP under Jonathan’s guidance.

2013 STEP Leaders from the Wilson College of Textiles:

Faculty: Philip Bradford, Ahmed El-Shafei, Jesse Jur, Helmut Hergeth, Traci Lamar, Debra McLendon, Lisa Parillo-Chapman, Bryan Ormond

Staff: Delisha Smith (Coordinator, HS Recruiter, Representing TT), Birgit Andersen, Judy Elson, Jeff Krauss

Graduate Students: Ashley Bradham, Mangesh Champhekar, Jonathan Halbur, Richard Padbury, Cassandra Kwon

Undergraduate Students: James Hatfield (Male Counselor), Courtney Priester, Tova Williams, Emily McGuinness, Sarah Paluskiewicz, Jenny Logan

Alumni: Sasha Ormond, Molly Hanes, Amanda Haislet, Andy Kaiser, Jessica Watkins Andrews, Denise Young