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Associate Professor Nolene Bryne
Associate Professor in the Institute for Frontier Materials, Deakin University
Field of expertise: circular design, textiles and fibres




In the time you have been working in your field, what impossible things have become possible?

Working in the field of fibres and textiles, many new things have come to realization: wearable technologies, lightweight high strength fibres, recycling and reusing fibres, as well as developing fibres from sustainable resources.

Traditionally textile materials are made from cotton, wool, silk and a few synthetic polymers such as nylon, polyurethane and polyester. As our global population grows there is growing demand for fibres and textiles, however there is also less land to grow cotton and less fossil fuel resources to make polyester and nylon. Therefore, we as scientists have developed many novel ways to either make new fibres from sustainable resources to reduce the need for fossil fuels, or to recycle cotton in such a way that new high value textile materials can be made, avoiding downcycling the cotton into rags.

Alongside traditional textiles an exciting new area of development has opened up: smart clothing incorporates sensors for monitoring a range of different responses from temperature to heart rate.

Innovations in textile materials is never ending and fibres are at the very core of our everyday lives.

What impossible thing(s) are you working towards making possible, and why?

Imagine what is needed to live on Mars ?

  • Protection against radiation: current spaceship materials are not good enough for a Mars mission or for establishing a colony.
  • Clothing: can’t easily wash clothing in space/on Mars, needs to integrate comfort, functionality, and reusability.
  • Food/water/energy supplies in space and on Mars: a colony needs to be self-sufficient.
  • Sustainability and use of resources: closed-loop system, everything needs to be re-used and re-purposed.
  • Advanced manufacturing technologies that can be used in flight or on Mars.
  • Oxygen: the need to develop an oxygen rich environment.

We at the Institute of Frontier Materials and the ARC Research Hub for Future Fibres are currently working to address these problems. Solutions will not only help with a mission to Mars and potential colonisation but they will also have significant impact on Earth.

What is an example of an impossible thing others in your field are currently working to make possible?

There are many new innovations happening within the fibres and textiles field. For example, the development of improved carbon fibres. These ultra-strong lightweight materials open up the possibility to make things significantly lighter, from aeroplanes to cars to our running shoes  This reduces fuel needs and can result in improved performance.

3D printing our clothing is a new innovation which could one day allow each of use to make sure we have the perfect fitting jeans, and potentially print our own personally designed outfits at home!

Finding new ways to colour our clothing using natural dyes or dyes that never fade would be a significant advantage as current dyeing methods are extremely environmentally expensive using massive amounts of water and energy. If we do colonise Mars we will need to find ways to reduce our consumption of water and energy so finding dyes that never fade could be the answer.

In your field are there any things that you predict will remain impossible, and why?

There are many challenges which currently may seem impossible, the largest challenge is developing products with increased functionality (like our wearable sensors) which can be recycled and contribute to the shift towards a circular economy. Increased functionality often means increased complexity, making recycling much harder. Finding textile materials and solutions which can provide desired functionality (i.e. health monitoring, mobile phone charging) while also being able to be recycled and not contribute to our waste problem is a huge challenge!

In your opinion what formerly impossible and now possible thing in your field has made or is making the largest contribution to human or planetary flourishing?

Australians dispose of 600 kg of textile waste every minute! Up until recently recycling such a large amount of textile waste has been impossible so it has gone directly to landfill. The development of new technologies to recycle textile garments, including separation of complex blends of cotton and polyester in such a way that both components can be reused to make a textile garment of equal or better quality, and the potential to keep the original garment colour, is starting to open up new pathways for our waste textiles. By diverting textile waste from landfill back into use and reducing the need for dyeing we can have a huge impact on the environment.

Another exciting development has been the ability to 3D print clothing. Previously thought to be impossible, improvements in the technology and new fibres becoming available has meant that 3D printing clothing is becoming a reality.

Given these developments perhaps anything is possible… including novel fibre and textile technologies enabling a manned mission to Mars and potentially a future Mars colony!

More information:

Find out more about the research of Associate Professor Bryne and her colleague at the Future Fibres Hub



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