Faculty Highlight: Dr. Ericka Ford

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Dr. Ericka Ford is an Assistant Professor within the Wilson College of Textiles (COT). She holds a joint appointment in the Department of Textile Engineering, Chemistry and Science and The Nonwovens Institute. Prior to joining the Wilson College of Textiles, Dr. Ford served as a National Research Council postdoctoral awardee in Chemical and Biological Defense, Science and Technology at the US Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center.

Although Dr. Ford is new to the COT, she is not a stranger to the field of textiles. By her junior year in high school, she knew that a career in textile engineering was for her. Since then, she has earned an undergraduate degree in Polymer Fiber Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), studied for a year at Leeds University in England, and worked at BP Amoco Fabrics and Fibers for several summers as an Inroads intern. After being exposed to Research & Development professionals at BP Amoco, she prepared for graduate research through undergraduate experiences at Case Western Reserve University and The University of Maine.

Dr. Ford earned her master’s degree in Polymer Science from the University of Southern Mississippi, where she studied the use of sustainable, environmentally friendly coatings technologies. Her investigation of bio-based resins for wrinkle free finishing was presented at the 2006 AATCC Herman and Myrtle Student Paper Competition and placed 1st. Upon returning to Georgia Tech as a doctoral student, she investigated the gel spinning of carbon nanotube (CNT) composites for high strength, high modulus fibers. In addition to graduate research, she participated in two NSF supported IGERTs- for integrated graduate education and research training focused on the commercialization of polymers and fiber technologies. In 2005, she and others traveled to Shanghai to learn about technology commercialization and the economy in China.

Dr. Ford’s research and educational activities will involve the following:

  1. Protective and therapeutic nonwovens
  2. Engineering of high performance fibers and textiles
  3. Sustainable textile coatings and finishing technologies
  4. Training and development for science and engineering professions

Protective and Therapeutic Nonwovens
To achieve textiles that were capable of autonomously sensing and deactivating threat agents, enzymatic proteins were embedded within electrospun fibers, having diameters on the order of hundreds of nanometers. The synergy of CNTs and active proteins resulted in an ultimate increase in threat deactivation (Fig 1). Dr. Ford’s research efforts will continue to include the investigation of multicomponent, biologically active textiles for applications of wound dressing, therapeutics, biofouling, and chemical protection.
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Fig 1. Biologically-active Nanocomposite Fibers: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/am502495e

Engineering of High Performance Fibers and Textiles
During the gel spinning of nanocomposite fibers, CNTs will initiate the ordering of polymer in the gel state and the assembly of polymer along its surface upon stretching (Fig 2). Both phenomenon are believed to reinforce the mechanical strength of composite fibers. This research has inspired Dr. Ford’s current interests in the strengthening of nanocomposites through phase development (Fig 2).
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Fig 2. Reinforcement Mechanisms within CNT Composite Fibers:http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/macp.201100534/abstract

Sustainable Textile Coatings and Finishing Technologies
In the interest of sustainable coatings technologies, biobased resins and techniques for ‘green’ packaging have been investigated. Through the application of chemically modified vegetable oils, the dry wrinkle resistance of cotton fabrics was improved. Also, electrospraying has been investigated as a technique for creating selective barrier coatings for recyclable, corrugated packaging. Since then, Dr. Ford continues to pursue research projects in the area of industrial coatings and finishing technologies that are also sustainable.

http://ojs.cnr.ncsu.edu/index.php/BioRes/article/view/BioRes_04_2_0714_Ford_KP_Breathable_Linerboard_Coatings

Training and Development for Science and Engineering Professions
Dr. Ford’s enthusiasm for engineering and science education is evident in her participation in K-12 outreach, time as a graduate teaching fellow, and mentoring of science and engineering professionals. While teaching general chemistry and physical science, she and her faculty-mentor integrated learning strategies that proved to aid the retention of scientific concepts. The displacement between orders of magnitude method (DBOM) – a tool to help students successfully covert between SI units- was developed and taught to introductory science students (Fig 3). In addition to partnering with her colleagues and students here at NC State, Dr. Ford is also excited to engage in research with talented faculty and student scholars from primarily undergraduate institutions.
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Fig 3. DBOM in Support of STEM Education: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/ed300006e