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Micro-Images of Cotton Are to Dye For / June 3, 1997 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Scientists examine image of white-speck nep: Link to photo information

Micro-Images of Cotton Are to Dye For

By Jill Lee
June 3, 1997

When researchers wanted to find new ways to enhance cotton quality, they found them by looking at cotton fiber in a totally new light--under a scanning electron microscope (SEM).

Cotton magnified 65, 125 and as many as 1,400 times by the SEM allows researchers with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service to see incredibly subtle changes in fabric and cotton fiber. This lets them make recommendations that lead to higher quality--both in the cotton bolls harvested from the grower’s field and the fabric spun at the mill.

Small flaws in dyeing, for example, can carry a hefty price tag: Imperfections cost the textile industry $200 million annually. Some flaws occur when small tangles of undyeable fiber make their way into a mill. A yard of royal blue fabric can be ruined by weaving this undyeable cotton into cloth. It causes an outbreak of white spots where the dye didn’t take. The fabric must be sold at a loss.

ARS textile researchers used SEM technology to prove these fabric flaws were the result of immature fibers--which the cotton plant had trouble developing in the field.

The May issue of Agricultural Research magazine has a story about the SEM work and other ARS textile discoveries, including enzyme pre-treatments that could reduce the impact of defects called white speck neps, and fabric treatments that may be kinder to the environment. The story can be viewed on the World Wide Web at:

Scientific contact: Wilton R. Goynes, ARS Southern Regional Research Center, New Orleans, La. 70179, phone (504) 286-4483, fax 286-4419, e-mail

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