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Biomimetic spinning of soft functional fibres via spontaneous phase separation


Soft fibres can be used to make smart textiles for use in energy, sensing and therapeutic applications. However, the fabrication of functional fibres is difficult compared with the fabrication of two-dimensional films and three-dimensional monoliths, and current methods typically require high temperatures, high volumes of solvents or complex systems. Here we report a spinning approach to fabricate functional fibres, which is based on spontaneous phase separation and is inspired by the silk-spinning processes of spiders. The silk-spinning process is mimicked by creating a spinning solution of polyacrylonitrile and silver ions, which forms an elastic supramolecular network with silver coordination complexes and in situ reduced silver nanoparticles. This approach, which operates at ambient pressure and temperature, can be used to make soft functional fibres that are mechanically stretchable (more than 500% strain), strong (more than 6 MPa) and electrically conductive (around 1.82 S m−1). To illustrate the capabilities of the technique, we use the fibres to create a sensing glove and a smart face mask.

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Fig. 1: Bioinspired PSEA spinning approach for producing functional soft fibres.
Fig. 2: Mechanical properties of the silver-coordinated supramolecular network.
Fig. 3: Fibre formation under ambient conditions.
Fig. 4: CG-MD simulation of the NVIPS effect.
Fig. 5: Mechanical and electrical properties of PANSion fibres.
Fig. 6: Demonstrations of PANSion-fibre-based smart textiles electronics.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding authors upon reasonable request.


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S.Z. acknowledges Y. Zhang at the Singapore Management University (SMU) for substantial support and assistance on data visualization and representation. J.C. acknowledges the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Department of Bioengineering at the University of California, Los Angeles, for the startup support. J.C. also acknowledges the Hellman Fellows Research Grant, the UCLA Pandemic Resources Program Research Award, the Research Recovery Grant by the UCLA Academic Senate, the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Young Investigator Grant (grant no. 30944 to J.C.) and the Catalyzing Pediatric Innovation Grant (grant no. 47744 to J.C.) from the West Coast Consortium for Technology & Innovation in Pediatrics, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. S.C.T. acknowledges the Ministry of Education Singapore Academic Research Fund (Tier 2 grant no. A-0005415-01-00).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



S.Z. conceived the idea, performed most of the experiments and analysed the data. S.C.T., J.C. and Y.-L.Z. supervised the project. Y.Z., A.L. and X.Z. assisted on the data interpretation and writing. Y.D. and P.Z. conducted the AFM–SMFS tests. M.L. assisted on the sensing glove design and execution. M.Z. assisted on proposing the fibre formation mechanism. H.Q. assisted on the car remote control demonstration. Y.-L.Z. performed the simulation. S.Z. wrote the initial manuscript. All the authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to You-Liang Zhu, Jun Chen or Swee Ching Tan.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

A provisional patent application has been filed by the National University of Singapore (ILO ref: 2023-010 filed on 16 January 2023).

Peer review

Peer review information

Nature Electronics thanks Meifang Zhu and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Texts 1–4, Figs. 1–51, Tables 1–5, Methods and references.

Supplementary Video 1

Effect of curing time on spinnability.

Supplementary Video 2

Fibre thinning under ambient conditions.

Supplementary Video 3

CG-MD simulation of the stretching–releasing results at a molecular level.

Supplementary Video 4

Fibre formation under ambient conditions via spontaneous phase separation.

Supplementary Video 5

Removing solvent droplets from fibres.

Supplementary Video 6

Phase separation of PAN and PANSion solution droplets under ambient conditions.

Supplementary Video 7

CG-MD simulation of phase separation (PSEA spinning and WS).

Supplementary Video 8

CG-MD simulation of mass transfer.

Supplementary Video 9

Demonstrations of the electronic applications of PANSion fibres.

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Zhang, S., Zhou, Y., Libanori, A. et al. Biomimetic spinning of soft functional fibres via spontaneous phase separation. Nat Electron 6, 338–348 (2023).

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