A direct 3D suspension near-field electrospinning technique for the fabrication of polymer nanoarrays
Near-field electrospinning (NFES) is widely recognized as a versatile nanofabrication method, one suitable for applications in tissue engineering. Rapid developments in this field have given rise to layered nanofibrous scaffolds. However, this electrostatic fabrication process is limited by the electric field inhibitory effects of polymer deposition. This leads to a major challenge: how to surpass this limitation on planar/layered constructs. While the current focus in this area largely lies with the investigation of new materials, techniques and increasing precision of NFES systems and patterning, exploration of complex collector substrates is often restricted by (i) available technology and (ii) access to complex electrode manufacturing tools. To achieve nanofiber arrays suspended in free space, this paper documents both the development of an integrated NFES system and the potential of standing electrodes manufactured via selective laser melting. This system was first tested by 2D patterning on planar silicon, using polyethylene oxide polymer solution. To demonstrate suspension NFES, two patterns operating within and around the standing electrodes produced high volume suspended nanoarrays. Image analysis of the arrays allowed for the assessment of fiber directionality and isotropy. By scanning electron microscopy, it was found that a mean fiber diameter of 310 nm of the arrays was achieved. Effectively manoeuvring between the electrode pillars required a precision automated system (unavailable off-the-shelf), developed in-house. This technique can be applied to the fabrication of nanofiber structures of sufficient volume for tissue engineering.