Should you rip it off fast or slow? Researchers at Penn State may have found the elusive third, painless option. Professor Greg Ziegler and research assistant Lingyan Kong have developed a process that spins starch into fine strands, creating fibers that could be woven into low-cost toilet paper, napkins and biodegradable bandages that don't need to be ripped off at all.

The natural abundance of starch makes it much more affordable than other polymers used to manufacture fibers. In fact, starch is the single most abundant and least expensive among all natural polymers, while alternatives such as cellulose and petroleum-based materials continue to increase in price and have a high environmental impact.

But starch presents a problem: when in contact with water, it becomes a thick paste that can't be made into fibers.

To tackle the issue the researchers added a solvent, which rendered the starch more pliable without destroying its molecular structure. They then used an electrospinning device (a machine that applies a high-voltage electrical charge) to create a charge repulsion that counteracts surface tension, stretching the droplets of starch into even longer strands that can be woven into bandages and other products.

"We are at an early phase of developing this idea," says Kong. "We have a prototype of the fibers which are potentially able to be developed into a bandage or dressing product."

Once the process is scaled to industrial size, companies could make bandages and other medical dressings that degrade into glucose, which can be safely absorbed by the body, eliminating the need to remove the bandage altogether.

The researchers have filed a provisional patent for this work, which was supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

(And while we're all waiting for the painless band-aid, in case you're wondering, the answer is: rip it off fast.)

Source: Penn State