Dr Tim Smith took up his post as a Research Fellow at the University of Huddersfield in 2019. With a background in chemistry, he is bringing his technical knowledge to projects focused on changing the functionality of textiles.
Tim completed his PhD at the University of Cardiff in 2013, focusing on synthetic chemistry for contrast agents in medical imaging.
At the time he says textiles were not on his radar at all, but a six-month research project at the University of Leeds offered an opportunity to apply his knowledge in developing medical textile products for blood filtration.
This new interest led Tim to pursue a further 5 years of industry focused research within technical textiles.
From there he moved to the Technical Textiles Research Centre at the University of Huddersfield, where he is using his chemistry background in a variety of collaborative projects with manufacturers and designers.
“I’ve benefited from so many great opportunities to bridge the gap between technical and creative expertise,” says Tim. “I’m learning all the time, swapping my knowledge for the creative insights of our partners and hearing from industry about how new techniques and processes could be scaled up or taken into commercial production.”
Tim’s current focus is on how plasma treatment can be used to modify fibres and fabrics to add or improve their functionality, from making fabrics reactive to improving durability and strength. One project is investigating how plasma treatment can temporarily change the surface of wool to develop a one-step process for adding creative designs.
“If we use specially designed techniques to make sure some parts of the surface don’t absorb specific dyes, we could develop a system where the pattern emerges on the fabric during the dyeing process,” he explains.
“That would be a quick form of late-stage customisation that could be particularly helpful for small businesses, because it doesn’t have to be done on a huge scale.”
Currently the project team is testing a range of options to achieve different patterns and results using this process, including using more dyes and mixing colours. There is also the question of whether this process could take place a step earlier – by modifying the yarn before weaving, so the pattern emerges as a fabric is batch dyed.
Each research question leads to commercial benefit for fashion and textile businesses, a key concern for Tim since he has moved to Yorkshire. Surrounded by the region’s textile heritage and working with partners across the supply chain, he says he has realised just how many opportunities exist in the sector.
“I didn’t appreciate how big and dynamic the industry is, especially in Yorkshire, but now I live here I know there is so much to shout about,” he adds. “I’m keen to support local companies through research and innovation. There are so many new and interesting possibilities and we have a lot to offer them.”
Tim is happy to hear from businesses that are interested in changing fibres and fabrics to give them new functions and characteristics. If you have an idea to discuss, get in touch at T.Smith3@hud.ac.uk.