Stuck at home during lockdown researchers at an American university got busy finding ways to make indoor environments covid safe.
The stay-at-home endeavour shown by the Northwestern University team, led by Jiaxing Huang, professor of materials science and engineering in Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering, has resulted in a pioneering new coating material that allows surfaces to absorb, rather than deflect, deadly droplets.
“Droplets collide with indoor surfaces all the time,” said Huang, the study’s senior author. “Right now, plexiglass dividers are deviating devices; they deflect droplets. If a surface could actually trap droplets, then every single droplet effectively removed from indoor air would be a successful elimination of a potential source of transmission.”
Infectious diseases are usually spread via respiratory droplets and aerosols released when people talk, sing, laugh and exhale. So as more people begin to congregate indoors, the new coating material, with its main ingredient of polyelectrolyte polymer – a substance typically found in cosmetic products, is a solution that will provide vital protection.
In tests the team found that even if they released more droplets than would commonly circulate indoors the coated surfaces still caught three times as many droplets as uncoated surfaces.
As well as applying it to plexiglass dividers Huang says the coating, which leaves surfaces ‘transparent and haze-free’, can be used on face shields and surfaces like walls and curtains to eliminate droplets from the air.
“There are massive areas of indoor surfaces that are barely touched by people or pets. If we repurposed these ‘idling’ surfaces to capture respiratory droplets, then they could become functional ‘devices’ to help reduce air-borne transmission of infectious diseases,” Huang added. “Surface-trapped pathogens can then be readily inactivated over time, which can be accelerated by pre-applied sanitization ingredients. They also can be removed during routine cleaning.”
The research was originally published in the journal Chem.