Patterning and process parameter effects in 3D suspension near-field electrospinning of nanoarrays
The extracellular matrix (ECM) contains nanofibrous proteins and proteoglycans. Nanofabrication methods have received growing interest in recent years as a means of recapitulating these elements within the ECM. Near-field electrospinning (NFES) is a versatile fibre deposition method, capable of layer-by-layer nano-fabrication. The maximum layer height is generally limited in layer-by-layer NFES as a consequence of electrostatic effects of the polymer at the surface, due to residual charge and polymer dielectric properties. This restricts the total volume achievable by layer-by-layer techniques. Surpassing this restriction presents a complex challenge, leading to research innovations aimed at increasing patterning precision, and achieving a translation from 2D to 3D additive nanofabrication. Here we investigated a means of achieving this translation through the use of 3D electrode substrates. This was addressed by in-house developed technology in which selective laser melt manufactured standing pillar electrodes were combined with a direct suspension near-field electrospinning (SNFES) technique, which implements an automated platform to manoeuvre the pillar electrodes around the emitter in order to suspend fibres in the free space between the electrode support structures. In this study SNFES was used in multiple operation modes, investigating the effects of varying process parameters, as well as pattern variations on the suspended nanoarrays. Image analysis of the nanoarrays allowed for the assessment of fibre directionality, isotropy, and diameter; identifying optimal settings to generate fibres for tissue engineering applications.