Combining the Science of Wool with The Engineering of Synthetics By Dr. Mike North


This episode really hit home with me for a few reasons:

I have a PhD in biomimicry, the design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modeled on biological entities and processes. So I love the concept of PowerWool, which builds on and improves the natural technology of sheep’s coats.
I am passionate about climate change, social justice, and how engineers, entrepreneurs, and corporations can help people and the planet, and Cotopaxi is a mission-driven company whose motto is “Gear for Good.”
I’ve been thinking about power wool since hanging out with the CEO of Polartec, who loves the properties of wool but recognized there’s weakness in its durability. That’s why he spearheaded the PowerWool project.
In particular, this episode got me thinking about the difference between, and science behind, synthetic fibers – or polymers – and natural fibers.

Polymers are created by combining a bunch of monomers in long chains. These chains have really strong backbones, and when they are wound together, form a synthetic fiber. We can engineer the fibers to change the individual monomers, which affects the chemical properties and how the chains interact. But it’s really fairly crude, in that we have to alter all the monomers in the same case, or maybe a few different types of monomers.

The natural fiber is much more complex. Its base unit is a helical molecule that winds together with other helical molecules to form a filament. These filaments are then set in a matrix of proteins that act as a glue holding them together. In a sense, it’s much like the resin holding carbon fibers together. The filament is strength, and the matrix allows the filaments the ability to move relative to each other allowing the material to bend, not break. If you want to know more about this, Click here

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