Bamboo research a catalyst for change!

29 May 2011

But Deakin University PhD student Tarannum Afrin occasionally pinches herself to make sure it is all real.

Deakin University PhD student Tarannum Afrin occasionally pinches herself to make sure it is all real.

In Bangladesh, where she worked part-time as a newscaster while studying to be a textile engineer, she interviewed the rich and the famous.

Now, here in Australia at Deakin, she finds herself regular being interviewed by the media because of her breakthrough research work in fibre.

And that media attention reaches a high-point next month, when she appears on ABC TV’s premier science program, Catalyst.

“When I got the email asking me to be on Catalyst, I couldn’t believe it,” Tarannum said.

“Even when the crew was here and they were filming I kept asking ‘are you sure you want to be talking to me’?”

Very sure it seems and with good reason.

Bamboo is an emerging fibre for the textile and medical industries.

“Manufacturers have long claimed that bamboo products have a range of properties including excellent appearance and feel, natural antibacterial, UV-shielding and moisture-controlling characteristics,” Tarannum said.

“But many of these claims had not been proven scientifically and above all, the manufacturers were using harsh and toxic chemicals to process fibres.

“My research identified the component in bamboo which gives it its UV qualities and this research will be published shortly.

“When you take the bamboo plant and make fibre out of it in an economic and eco-friendly manner there is also a challenge in retaining the structure of the bamboo which gives it its antibacterial, UV blocking and moisture wicking (capillary motion) properties.”

Tarannum said while bamboo was attractive as an alternative natural eco friendly fibre for clothing the method of processing used chemicals and wasn’t friendly to the environment.

“The process we have developed allows us to process the plant into a fibre in an environmentally friendly way while retaining the UV qualities, the wicking and anti-bacterial properties,” she said.

Tarannum said bamboo fibres provided a promising alternative to other natural fibres like cotton and silk which were labour and resource intensive.

“Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world and grows to its maximum height in about three months and reaches maturity in a year,” she said.

“It can grow up to one metre over night and as a result spreads rapidly across large areas.

“The yield from an acre of bamboo is 10 times greater than that from cotton.”

Tarannum said bamboo also didn’t need pesticides, chemical weeding, insecticides, and fungicide to grow.

“Unlike cotton, bamboo needs no irrigation,” she added.

Tarannum has been at Deakin’s Waurn Ponds campus for more than two years now as she works towards her PhD under the supervision of Dr Takuya Tsuzuki, Dr Rupinder K. Kanwar and Professor Xungai Wang and if she has her way, she won’t be leaving for a while.

“I grew up in a big city in Bangladesh, and I have worked in Manchester and Sydney and I used to love the hustle and the bustle but these days, I am very happy living in a quieter place like Geelong,” she said.

“If I find myself stressed about my work, I go to Eastern Beach or drive to Torquay and it is very relaxing.

“Even walking around the Waurn Ponds campus in my lunch break among the trees is very peaceful.”

Interestingly, Deakin and Tarannum’s peaceful and highly productive paths might never have crossed but for the wonders of Google.

She had never heard of the University – or Geelong - until she came across the work of Professor Wang in a number of high quality textile journals.

Professor Wang heads up the Centre for Material and Fibre Innovation at Deakin and is one of the University’s most decorated researchers.

“I saw his name in the journals and I thought, I wonder where he is based,” Tarannum said.

“So I googled Xungai Wang I discovered he was at Deakin, which I had never heard off before, in this place called Geelong which was also a new name to me,” she said.

“I sent him an email and he encouraged me to apply for a scholarship, which I did, and here I am in Geelong.

“And if I can get the chance to stay forever in Geelong, I will.”

Tarannum Afrin’s research work will be featured on Catalyst on ABC TV on June 23 at 8pm.

Tanya Ha from Catalyst (left) with Tarannum Afrin Tanya Ha from Catalyst (left) with Tarannum Afrin

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